Effects of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids on estimated desaturase activities during a controlled dietary intervention

Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2008 Dec;18(10):683-90. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2007.11.002. Epub 2008 Mar 25.


Background and aims: Direct measurement of desaturase activities are difficult to obtain in humans. Consequently, surrogate measures of desaturase activity (estimated desaturase activities) have been frequently used in observational studies, and estimated Delta(9)- (or stearoyl-CoA-desaturase (SCD)), Delta(6)- and Delta(5)-desaturase activities have been associated with cardiometabolic disease. Data on how the markers of desaturase activities are modified by changes in dietary fat quality are lacking and therefore warrant examination.

Methods and results: In a two-period (three weeks) strictly controlled cross-over study, 20 subjects (six women and 14 men) consumed a diet high in saturated fat (SAT-diet) and a rapeseed oil diet (RO-diet), rich in oleic acid (OA), linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Estimated desaturase activities were calculated as precursor to product FA ratios in serum cholesteryl esters and phospholipids. The estimated SCD [16:1 n-7/16:0] and Delta(6)-desaturase [20:3 n-6/18:2 n-6] was significantly higher while Delta(5)-desaturase [20:4 n-6/20:3 n-6] was significantly lower in the SAT-diet (P<0.001 for all), compared to the RO-diet. The serum proportions of palmitic, stearic, palmitoleic and dihomo-gamma-linolenic acids were significantly higher in the SAT-diet while the proportions of LA and ALA were significantly higher in the RO-diet.

Conclusion: This is the first study to demonstrate that surrogate measures of desaturase activities change as a consequence of an alteration in dietary fat quality. Both the [16:1/16:0]-ratio and 16:1 seem to reflect changes in saturated fat intake and may be useful markers of saturated fat intake in Western countries.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linoleic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oleic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Plant Oils / administration & dosage
  • Rapeseed Oil
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid / administration & dosage


  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated
  • Plant Oils
  • Rapeseed Oil
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid
  • Oleic Acid
  • Linoleic Acid
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases