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J Lipid Res. 1997 Oct;38(10):2012-22.

Kinetics of the incorporation of dietary fatty acids into serum cholesteryl esters, erythrocyte membranes, and adipose tissue: an 18-month controlled study.

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Department of Human Nutrition, Wageningen Agricultural University, The Netherlands.


Tissue levels of n-3 fatty acids reflect dietary intake, but quantitative data about rate of incorporation and levels as a function of intake are scarce. We fed 58 men 0, 3, 6, or 9 g/d of fish oil for 12 months and monitored fatty acids in serum cholesteryl esters, erythrocytes, and subcutaneous fat during and after supplementation. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in cholesteryl esters plateaued after 4-8 weeks; the incorporation half-life was 4.8 days. Steady-state levels increased by 3.9 +/- 0.3 mass % points (+/- SE) for each extra gram of EPA eaten per day. Incorporation of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) was erratic; plateau values were 1.1 +/- 0.1 mass % higher for every g/d ingested. Incorporation of EPA into erythrocyte membranes showed a half-life of 28 days; a steady state was reached after 180 days. Each g/d increased levels by 2.1 +/- 0.1 mass %. C22:5n-3 levels increased markedly. Changes in DHA were erratic and smaller. EPA levels in adipose tissue rose also; the change after 6 months was 67% of that after 12 months in gluteal and 75% in abdominal fat. After 12 months each gram per day caused an 0.11 +/- 0.01 mass % rise in gluteal fat for EPA, 0.53 +/- 0.07 for C22:5n-3, and 0.14 +/- 0.03 for DHA. Thus, different (n-3) fatty acids were incorporated with different efficiencies, possibly because of interconversions or different affinities of the enzymatic pathways involved. EPA levels in cholesteryl esters reflect intake over the past week or two, erythrocytes over the past month or two, and adipose tissue over a period of years. These findings may help in assessing the intake of (n-3) fatty acids in epidemiological studies.

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