Objective. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a fluctuating disorder of the gastrointestinal tract, characterized by abdominal pain and change in bowel habit. We wanted to investigate subjects with IBS for signs of disturbed intestinal absorption of fatty acids, as reflected in serum composition.

Material and methods. Serum samples were obtained from 32 adults with IBS, and from 59 controls. Serum fatty acids were analyzed by capillary gas-liquid chromatography.

Results. Especially the proportions of arachidonic acid (20:4 n-6) and the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids of the n-3 family docosapentaenoic acid (22:5 n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6 n-3) were decreased in subjects with IBS. The proportions of unsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids were generally increased in IBS compared to controls.

Conclusions. Although organic disease has been ruled out in patients with IBS, they presented signs of inadequate supply of long-chain fatty acids. Supplementation with n-3 fatty acids may be implicated.