Food and Behaviour Research

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Polyunsaturated fatty acid status of Dutch vegans and omnivores

Fokkema MR, Brouwer DA, Hasperhoven MB, Hettema Y, Bemelmans WJ, Muskiet FA. (2000) Prostaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 63(5) 279-85. 

Web URL: This abstract can be viewed via PubMed here


We compared the polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) status of Dutch vegans and omnivores to investigate whether disparities can be explained by different diets and long chain PUFA (LCP) synthesis rates.

Dietary intakes and fatty acid compositions of erythrocytes (RBC), platelets (PLT), plasma cholesterol esters (CE) and plasma triglycerides (TG) of 12 strict vegans and 15 age- and sex-matched omnivores were determined.

Vegans had higher omega 6 (CE, TG), 18:2 omega 6 (RBC, CE, TG), 18:3 omega 6 (TG), 20:3 omega 6 (TG), 22:4 omega 6 (TG), 22:5 omega 3 (RBC, PLT), 22:5 omega 3/22:6 omega 3 (RBC, PLT) and 22:5 omega 6/22:6 omega 3 (RBC, PLT), and lower 22:4 omega 6 (RBC, PLT), 22:4 omega 6/22:5 omega 6 (RBC, PLT), omega 3 (CE), LCP omega 3 (CE, TG), 20:5 omega 3 (RBC, PLT, CE), 22:5 omega 3 (TG) and 22:6 omega 3 (all compartments).

Vegans had lower 20:4 omega 6 (TG) after normalization of PUFA to 100%, and normalization of eicosanoid precursors to 100% revealed similar 20:4 omega 6 (all), higher 20:3 omega 6 (TG) and lower 20:5 omega 3 (all).

High omega 6 (notably 18:2 omega 6) and low omega 3 (notably 20:5 omega 3, 22:6 omega 3) status in Dutch vegans derives from low dietary LCP omega 3 and 18:3 omega 3/18:2 omega 6 ratio.

Higher 18:3 omega 6 and 20:3 omega 6 in their TG may reflect higher hepatic 20:4 omega 6 production rate, whereas higher 20:4 omega 6 and 22:4 omega 6 in omnivores indicates 20:4 omega 6 intake from meat.


This study found that compared with omnivores, vegan adults showed lower blood levels of long-chain omega-3, and a much higher ratio of shorter chain omega-6 / omega-3. 

These differences appeared to be explicable primarily by dietary intakes. 

In a further study, the same group showed that in vegans, supplementation with high levels of only the shorter chain, plant-derived omega-3 (ALA) did not restore levels of the long-chain omega-3 (found naturally in fish and seafood, and some organ meats). See: