Essential fatty acid metabolism and its modification in atopic eczema

Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jan;71(1 Suppl):367S-72S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/71.1.367s.


Research from the 1930s to the 1950s established that a deficit of n-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs) leads to an inflammatory skin condition in both animals and humans. In a common inherited skin condition, atopic dermatitis (eczema), there was evidence of low blood EFA concentrations and of a therapeutic response to exceptionally high doses of linoleic acid. More recently, it has been established that there is no deficit of linoleic acid in atopic eczema. Concentrations of linoleic acid instead tend to be elevated in blood, milk, and adipose tissue of patients with atopic eczema, whereas concentrations of linoleic acid metabolites are substantially reduced. This suggests reduced conversion of linoleic acid to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). In most but not all studies, administration of GLA has been found to improve the clinically assessed skin condition, the objectively assessed skin roughness, and the elevated blood catecholamine concentrations of patients with atopic eczema. Atopic eczema may be a minor inherited abnormality of EFA metabolism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / chemistry
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / etiology*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / metabolism
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / therapy
  • Fatty Acids, Essential / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Essential / therapeutic use
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Linoleic Acid / blood
  • Linoleic Acid / metabolism*
  • Linoleic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Linoleic Acids
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Plant Oils
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid / biosynthesis
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid / therapeutic use
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Fatty Acids, Essential
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Linoleic Acids
  • Plant Oils
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid
  • evening primrose oil
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid
  • Linoleic Acid