Food and Behaviour Research

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Past and Present Insights on Alpha Linolenic Acid and the Omega-3 Fatty Acid Family.

Stark AH, Reifen R, Crawford MA. (2015) Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr.  DOI:10.1080/10408398.2013.828678 Taylor & Francis online

Web URL: Read more and find related articles on the pubmed website here


α-linolenic acid (ALA) is the parent essential fatty acid of the omega-3 family.

This family includes docosahexaenoic acid which has been conserved in neural signalling systems in the cephalopods, fish, amphibian, reptiles, birds, mammals, primates and humans.
This extreme conservation, despite wide genomic changes over 500 million years, testifies to a uniqueness of this molecule in the brain and affirms the importance of the omega-3 fattyacids.

Whilst docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and its close precursor, eicosapentaenoic acids (EPA) have received much attention by the research community, ALA as the precursor for both, has been considered of little interest.

There are many papers on ALA requirements in experimental animals. Unlike humans, rats and mice can readily convert ALA to EPA and DHA so it is unclear if the effect is solely due to the conversion products, or to ALA itself.

The intrinsic role of ALA has yet to be defined. This paper will discuss both recent and historical findings related to this distinctive group of fatty acids, and will highlight the physiological significance of the omega-3 family.