Aims/hypothesis: Types of dietary fat have been related to components of the metabolic syndrome. Serum fatty acid composition mainly reflects dietary fat intake, but also endogenous fatty acid synthesis catalysed by Delta-desaturases. It is not known whether alterations of fatty acid composition or desaturase activities predict metabolic syndrome.
Materials and methods: We prospectively evaluated fatty acid composition in serum cholesteryl esters and estimated desaturase activities in 1,558 50-year-old men taking part in a population-based cohort study. The follow-up time was 20 years. Stearoyl-CoA desaturase (SCD-1), Delta6 (D6D) and Delta5 (D5D) desaturases were estimated as precursor to fatty acid ratios.
Results: High activity of estimated SCD-1 (odds ratio=1.29, p<0.05) and D6D (odds ratio=1.35, p<0.05), as well as low estimated D5D activity (odds ratio=0.71, p<0.001) predicted the development of metabolic syndrome (as defined by the National Cholesterol Education Program). The predictive value of D5D activity was independent of lifestyle factors (smoking, BMI and physical activity), whereas the risk associated with higher SCD-1 and D6D activities was mainly explained by obesity. Among those developing metabolic syndrome (119 out of 706) during follow-up, the proportions of fatty acids 14:0, 16:0, 16:1 (n-7), 18:1 (n-9), 18:3 (n-6) and 20:3 (n-6) were increased at baseline, while 18:2 (n-6) was decreased (p<0.05 for all).
Conclusions/interpretation: Serum fatty acid composition predicts the long-term development of the metabolic syndrome, and D5D activity may be particularly important in this process. Our results suggest a role of dietary fat quality in the development of metabolic syndrome, but the possibility that altered fatty acid composition, partly secondary to genetic or hormonal factors, should also be considered.