Food and Behaviour Research

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The imperative of arachidonic acid in human reproduction

Crawford M, Sinclair A, Hall B, Ogundipe E, Wang Y, Bitsanis D, Djahanbakhch O, Harbige L, Golfetto I, Moodley T, Hassam A, Sassine A, Johnson M (2023) Progress in Lipid Research Feb 4;101222 doi: 10.1016/j.plipres.2023.101222 

Web URL: Read this article on PubMed


We are presenting new evidence on essential fatty acids (EFA) in prenatal human development.

We have demonstrated, for the first time, the detailed process of active selection of some fatty acids by the placenta (biomagnification) and rejection of others (bioreduction) and how this strategy is of supreme importance for understanding of the biology of human reproduction.

The biomagnification process by the placenta is dominated by arachidonic acid (ArA) and its allies: di-homo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA), adrenic acid and ω6 docosapentaenoic acid. Stearic acid is similarly bio-magnified which is likely to provide for the sn-1 position in membrane synthesis.

In contrast there is a bioreduction of oleic, linoleic and all ω3 precursors for docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Although DHA is biomagnified, the amplification from mother to fetus is small compared to ArA.

We report on the dominant compartmentalisation of ArA from mother to fetal plasma, cell membranes of red cells, mono-nuclear cells, endothelium and the placenta.

We conclude that ArA and its allies, play a paramount role in the development of the products of conception. It is plausible that inadequate provision of ArA may be relevant to the neuro-vascular complications of prematurity and neurodevelopmental disorders associated with premature birth.

We present evidence of ArA's universal role from an identical arachidonic acid-based strategy observed in contrasting cultures. The dominance of ArA in the prenatal and in post-natal nutritional provision by human milk makes a compelling case for re-evaluation of its role, especially in reproductive biology.


This new review summarises a wealth of data illustrating the critical importance of the Omega-6 fat, Arachidonic Acid (known as AA or ArA) in human fertility and reproduction. 

As the authors emphasise, a relative lack of this key fatty acid may underlie some of the most serious complications of prematurity, including neurovascular problems and neurodevelopmental conditions that have lifelong implications. See:

The Omega-3 and Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are both dietary essentials - like vitamins and minerals - although it is the longer-chain forms of each that are biologically essential, particularly Omega-3 DHA and EPA (found in fish and seafood); Omega-6 AA (found in meat, fish, eggs & dairy products), and Omega-6 DGLA (found in human milk).