Food and Behaviour Research

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Quantitative association between altered plasma esterified omega-6 fatty acid proportions and psychological stress.

Williams LL, Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Horrocks LA, Hillhouse JT, Glaser R. (1992)  Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids.  47(2): 165-70 

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Medical students (MS) tested during the first year of medical school showed both greater stress on the Brief Symptom Inventory and lower plasma proportions of total esterified arachidonic acid (AA, C20:4n-6), and its omega-6 fatty acid (FA) precursor, linoleic acid (C18:2n-6) than control laboratory workers.

This association suggests that omega-6 FA metabolism may be affected during stress. Low AA values might result from depletion of plasma stores for immunoregulatory prostenoids formation or from modification of metabolic pathways by cortisol or other cytokine compounds implicated in stress. Values for other major FA and the omega-3 neuronal metabolic substrate, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6n-3) were similar between students and controls.

The clear preservation of the omega-3 FA pathway suggests their programmed availability for neuronal function during stress. Since plasma FA proportions may affect immune cell membrane function(s), we suggest that altered values of plasma FAs may be an important component of the physiological effects of psychological stress.