Lipids, 2022, Nov;57(6):267-287.

α-linolenic acid interconversion is sufficient as a source of longer chain ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in humans: An opinion.

Burdge GC



α-linolenic acid (αLNA) conversion into the functionally important ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), has been regarded as inadequate for meeting nutritional requirements for these PUFA. This view is based on findings of small αLNA supplementation trials and stable isotope tracer studies that have been interpreted as indicating human capacity for EPA and, in particular, DHA synthesis is limited. The purpose of this review is to re-evaluate this interpretation. Markedly differing study designs, inconsistent findings and lack of trial replication preclude robust consensus regarding the nutritional adequacy of αLNA as a source of EPC and DHA. The conclusion that αLNA conversion in humans is constrained is inaccurate because it presupposes the existence of an unspecified, higher level of metabolic activity. Since capacity for EPA and DHA synthesis is the product of evolution it may be argued that the levels of EPA and DHA it maintains are nutritionally appropriate. Dietary and supra-dietary EPA plus DHA intakes confer health benefits. Paradoxically, such health benefits are also found amongst vegetarians who do not consume EPA and DHA, and for whom αLNA conversion is the primary source of ω-3 PUFA. Since there are no reported adverse effects on health or cognitive development of diets that exclude EPA and DHA, their synthesis from αLNA appears to be nutritionally adequate. This is consistent with the dietary essentiality of αLNA and has implications for developing sustainable nutritional recommendations for ω-3 PUFA.

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