Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are metabolized in a complex network of elongation, desaturation and beta oxidation.
The short (1 and 3 wk), and long term (6 and 12 wk) effect of 1076mg/d docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, free of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)) on (absolute) PUFA concentrations in plasma and red blood cells (RBC) of 12 healthy men (mean age 25.1±1.5 years) was investigated.
RBC DHA concentrations significantly (p<0.001) increased from 28±1.6µg/mL to 38±2.0µg/mL (wk 1), 52±3.3µg/mL (wk 3), 68±2.6µg/mL (wk 6), and 79±3.5µg/mL (wk 12). Arachidonic acid (AA) concentrations declined in response to DHA treatment, while the effect was more pronounced in plasma (wk 0: 183±9.9µg/mL, wk 12: 139±8.0µg/mL, -24%, p<0.001) compared to RBC (wk 0: 130±3.7µg/mL, wk 12: 108±4.0µg/mL, -16%, p=0.001). Furthermore, an increase of EPA concentrations in plasma (wk 0: 15±1.5µg/mL, wk 1:19±1.6µg/mL, wk 3: 27±2.3µg/mL, wk 6: 23±1.2µg/mL, wk 12: 25±1.7µg/mL, p<0.001) and RBC (wk 0: 4.7±0.33µg/mL, wk 1: 6.7±1.3µg/mL, wk 3: 8.0±0.66µg/mL, wk 6: 6.9±0.44µg/mL, wk 12: 6.7±0.45µg/mL, n.s.) was observed suggesting a retroconversion of DHA to EPA.
Based on PUFA concentrations we showed that DHA supplementation results in increased EPA levels, whereas it is not known if this impacts the formation of EPA-derived lipid mediators. Furthermore, shifts in the entire PUFA pattern after supplementation of EPA or DHA should be taken into account when discussing differential physiological effects of EPA and DHA.