The therapeutic and health-promoting effects of (n-3) long-chain PUFA (LCPUFA) from fish are well known, although these same benefits may not be shared by their precursor, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

World-wide agencies and scientific organizations (i.e. FDA, AHA, International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids, Institute of Medicine, WHO, etc.) have made similar dietary recommendations for (n-3) LCPUFA; however, due to concerns regarding the safety of consuming fish, alternative sources of (n-3) LCPUFA are being investigated.

One such lipid is stearidonic acid (SDA), a naturally occurring (n-3) PUFA that may have similar biological properties to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), a major (n-3) PUFA in fish oil. Existing and novel plant sources rich in SDA are being cultivated and promoted as potential alternatives to marine-based (n-3) PUFA.

This critical review provides a direct comparison of SDA with other dietary (n-3) PUFA under similar experimental conditions. The comparative results suggest that SDA shares many of the biological effects of (n-3) LCPUFA and functions most similarly to dietary EPA compared with ALA when consumed in a typical Western diet.

Therefore, although SDA may not replace fish as a major dietary source of (n-3) LCPUFA, it could become a prominent surrogate for EPA in the commercial development of foods fortified with (n-3) PUFA.

PMID: 19056654

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