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Very Low n–3 Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Status in Austrian Vegetarians and Vegans

Kornsteiner M. · Singer I. · Elmadfa I.
Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria Ann Nutr Metab 2008;52:37–47 (DOI:10.1159/000118629)


Background/Aims: The objective of the study was to collect data on dietary fat intake of omnivores, vegetarians, vegans and semi-omnivores as well as its impact on n–3 and n–6 fatty acids in long-term markers such as sphingolipids, phosphatidylcholine (PC), phosphatidylserine (PS), phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) as well as the calculated sphingo- and phospholipids (SPL) of erythrocytes. Method: The present observational study included 98 Austrian adult volunteers of both genders, of which 23 were omnivores, 25 vegetarians, 37 vegans, and 13 semi-omnivores. Information on anthropometry using measured body weight and height was obtained. The amount and composition of ingested fat were calculated from 24-hour recalls and the fatty acid pattern in the phospholipids was assessed using gas chromatography. Results: The unbalanced n–6/n–3 ratio and the limited dietary sources of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in vegans and vegetarians led to reductions in C20:5n–3, C22:5n–3, C22:6n–3 and total n–3 fatty acids in SPL, PC, PS and PE compared with omnivores and semi-omnivores. The total content of polyunsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids and saturated fatty acids remained unchanged. Conclusion: The vegetarian diet, with an average n–6/n–3 ratio of 10/1, promotes biochemical n–3 tissue decline. To ensure physical, mental and neurological health vegetarians have to reduce the n–6/n–3 ratio with an additional intake of direct sources of EPA and DHA, regardless of age and gender.


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