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Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2006 Sep;75(3):135-44. Epub 2006 Jul 28.

Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in maternal and infant nutrition.

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Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University Medical Center Groningen, The Netherlands.


Homo sapiens has evolved on a diet rich in alpha-linolenic acid and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCP). We have, however, gradually changed our diet from about 10,000 years ago and accelerated this change from about 100 to 200 years ago. The many dietary changes, including lower intake of omega3-fatty acids, are related to 'typically Western' diseases. After a brief introduction in essential fatty acids (EFA), LCP and their functions, this contribution discusses our present low status of notably LCPomega3 in the context of our rapidly changing diet within an evolutionary short time frame. It then focuses on the consequences in pregnancy, lactation and neonatal nutrition, as illustrated by some recent data from our group. We discuss the concept of a 'relative' EFA/LCP deficiency in the fetus as the outcome of high transplacental glucose flux. This flux may in the fetus augment de novo synthesis of fatty acids, which not only dilutes transplacentally transported EFA/LCP, but also causes competition of de novo synthesized oleic acid with linoleic acid for delta-6 desaturation. Such conditions were encountered by us in mothers with high body mass indices, diabetes mellitus and preeclampsia. The unifying factor might be compromised glucose homeostasis. In search of the milk arachidonic acid (AA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) contents of our African ancestors, we investigated women in Tanzania with high intakes of freshwater fish as only animal lipid source. These women had milk AA and DHA contents that were well above present recommendations for infant formulae. Both studies stimulate rethinking of 'optimal homeostasis'. Subtle signs of dysbalanced maternal glucose homeostasis may be important and observations from current Western societies may not provide us with an adequate basis for dietary recommendations.

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