Nutr Res Pract.  2021 Apr;15(2):137-159. 10.4162/nrp.2021.15.2.137.

Role of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in human nutrition and health: review of recent studies and recommendations

Affiliations
  • 1Nutrition Science & Advocacy, DSM Nutritional Products, 4303 Kaiseraugst, Switzerland

Abstract

Long-chain (LC) n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs), in particular docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are nutrients involved in many metabolic and physiological processes, and are referred to as n-3 LCPUFA. They have been extensively studied for their effects in human nutrition and health. This paper provides an overview on metabolism, sources, dietary intake, and status of n-3 LCPUFA. A summary of the dietary recommendations for n-3 LCPUFAs for different age groups as well as specific physiological conditions is provided. Evidence for n-3 LCPUFA in cardiovascular diseases, including new studies, is reviewed. Expert recommendations generally support a beneficial effect of n-3 LCPUFA on cardiovascular health and recommend a daily intake of 500 mg as DHA and EPA, or 1–2 servings of fish per week. The role of n-3 LCPUFA on brain health, in particular neurodegenerative disorders and depression, is reviewed. The evidence for beneficial effects of n-3 LCPUFA on neurodegenerative disorders is non-conclusive despite mechanistic support and observational data. Hence, no definite n-3 LCPUFA expert recommendations are made. Data for the beneficial effect of n-3 LCPUFA on depression are generally compelling. Expert recommendations have been established: 200–300 mg/day for depression; up to 1–2 g/day for major depressive disorder. Recent studies support a beneficial role of n-3 LCPUFAs in reducing the risk for premature birth, with a daily intake of 600–800 mg of DHA during pregnancy. Finally, international experts recently reviewed the scientific evidence on DHA and arachidonic acid (ARA) in infant nutrition and concluded that the totality of data support that infant and follow-on formulas should provide both DHA and ARA at levels similar to those in breast milk. In conclusion, the available scientific data support that dietary recommendations for n-3 LCPUFA should be established for the general population and for subjects with specific physiological conditions.

Keyword

Docosahexaenoic acid; eicosapentaenoic acid; heart; brain; adult; pregnancy; infant

Figure

  • Fig. 1 Metabolic pathway for n-3 LCPUFA synthesis from ALA.LCPUFA, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid; ALA, alpha-linolenic acid; SA, stearidonic acid; EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid; ETA, eicosatetraenoic acid; DPA, docosapentaenoic acid; DHA, docosahexaenoic acid.


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