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Essential Fatty Acids

In 1992, the European Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) established Population Reference Intakes (PRI) for polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) as a proportion of the total daily energy intake (202).

 

In typical adult females and males, 2 % of the total daily energy intake should be derived from omega-6 PUFA and 0.5 % from omega-3 PUFA. This corresponds to a daily intake of approximately 6 g/day (5 g omega-6 PUFA/day + 1 g omega-3 PUFA/day) for women and 8 g/day (6.4 g omega-6 PUFA/day + 1.6 g omega-3 PUFA/day) for men.

 

In 2003, the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL, www.issfal.org.uk) published its recommendations for intake of PUFA in healthy adults. The scientists suggested for cardiovascular health a minimum intake of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) combined of 500 mg/day.

 

In 2009, The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its recommendations for PUFA (203):

 

  • an omega-3 fatty acid intake of 2 g/day alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and 250 mg/day long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • an omega-6 fatty acid intake of 10 g/day linoleic acid (LA).

In 2002, the Food and Nutrition Board of the U.S. Institute of Medicine established adequate intake (AI) levels for omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids (1):

 

Adequate intake (AI) for omega-6 fatty acids:
 

 Life Stage  Age SourceMales: (g/day)Females: (g/day)
 Infants0–6 monthsOmega-6 PUFA* 4.44.4
 Infants 7–12 monthsOmega-6 PUFA* 4.64.6
 Children  1–3 yearsLA77
 Children 4–8 yearsLA1010
 Children9–13 yearsLA1210
 Adolescents14–18 yearsLA1611
 Adults19-50 yearsLA1712
 Adults 51 yearsLA1411
 PregnancyAll agesLA-13
 LactationAll agesLA-13

 

*The various omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) present in human milk can contribute to the AI for infants. 
Key: LA = linoleic acid

Adequate intake (AI) for omega-3 fatty acids:

 

 Life Stage  Age SourceMales: (g/day)Females: (g/day)
 Infants0–6 monthsALA, EPA, DHA* 0.50.5
 Infants 7–12 monthsALA, EPA, DHA*  0.50.5
 Children  1–3 yearsALA0.70.7
 Children 4–8 yearsALA0.90.9
 Children9–13 yearsALA1.21.0
 Adolescents14–18 yearsALA1.61.1
 Adults19 yearsALA1.61.1
 PregnancyAll agesALA-1.4
 LactationAll agesALA-1.3

 

*All omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids present in human milk can contribute to the AI for infants.
Key: ALA = alpha-linolenic acid; EPA = eicosapentaenoic acid; DHA = docosahexaenoic acid.

The American Heart Association recommends that people without documented coronary heart disease (CHD) eat a variety of fish (preferably oily) at least twice weekly, in addition to consuming oils and foods rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (204).

 

Pregnant women and children should avoid fish that typically have higher levels of contaminants (e.g., methylmercury).

 

People with documented CHD are advised to consume approximately 1 g/day EPA + DHA preferably from oily fish or to consider EPA + DHA supplements under a physician’s supervision (204).

 

Patients who need to lower blood serum triglycerides may take 2–4 g/day of EPA + DHA supplements under a physician’s care (204).

 

The Japan Society for Lipid Nutrition has recommended that LA intake be reduced to 3–4% of energy in Japanese people whose omega-3 fatty acid intakes average 2.6 g/day, including about 1 g/day of EPA + DHA (205).

 

The World Health Organization recommends an omega-6 fatty acid intake of 5–8% of energy and an omega-3 fatty acid intake of 1–2% of energy (125).

 

The differences in recommendations reflect different nutritional goals: while the European SCF recommendations for omega-3 PUFA are based on the amounts necessary to correct a clinically overt deficiency, the recommendations for total omega-3 PUFA formulated by WHO were based on considerations of cardiovascular health and neurodevelopment.

Last updated: 12.07.2012