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Lipids Health Dis. 2013 Nov 14;12:173. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-12-173.

Cheek cell fatty acids reflect n-3 PUFA in blood fractions during linseed oil supplementation: a controlled human intervention study.

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Department of Nutritional Physiology, Institute of Nutrition, Friedrich Schiller University, Dornburger Straße 24, Jena 07743, Germany.



Adequate biomarkers for the dietary supply of fatty acids (FA) are FA of adipose tissue and blood fractions. In human studies, invasive sample collection is unpleasant for subjects. In contrast, cheek cell sampling can be considered as a non-invasive alternative to investigate FA status.The aim of this study was to analyze whether cheek cell FA composition reflect the supplementation of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) using a linseed oil mixture compared to olive oil supplementation. Additionally, it was investigated if cheek cell FA composition correlates with the FA composition of plasma, red blood cells (RBC) and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) before and during both interventions.


During a 10-week randomized, controlled, double-blind human intervention study, 38 subjects provided cheek cell and blood samples. After a two-week run-in period, the test group (n = 23) received 17 g/d of an ALA-rich linseed oil mixture, while the control group (n = 15) received 17 g/d of an omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated FA (PUFA)-free olive oil. Cheek cells and blood were collected on days 0, 7 and 56 of the 8-week intervention period.


Compared to olive oil, the linseed oil intervention increased ALA and also the endogenously converted long-chain n-3 metabolites eicosatetraenoic-, eicosapentaenoic- and docosapentaenoic acid in cheek cells (P ≤ 0.05). Docosahexaenoic acid remained unchanged. Reflecting the treatment, the n-6/n-3 ratio decreased in the test group. In general, cheek cell FA reflected the changes of FA in blood fractions. Independent of treatment, significant correlations (P ≤ 0.05) of n-6 PUFA and n-3 PUFA between cheek cells and plasma, RBC and PBMC were found, except for linoleic acid and ALA.


The changes in FA composition of cheek cells confirmed that ALA from linseed oil increased endogenously derived n-3 PUFA in cheek cell lipids. These changes in cheek cells and their correlation to the respective FA in blood fractions indicate the cheek cell FA profile as an adequate non-invasive biomarker for short-term n-3 PUFA intake and metabolism. Therefore, cheek cell FA can be used in human intervention studies or large-scale epidemiological studies, especially for assessment of the n-3 PUFA status.


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