Polyunsaturated fatty acids as antioxidants

Pharmacol Res. 2008 Jun;57(6):451-5. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2008.05.002. Epub 2008 May 18.


The susceptibility of fatty acids to oxidation is thought to be directly dependent on their degree of unsaturation. However, some in vitro and in vivo studies suggest that the relation between chemical structure and susceptibility to oxidation is not as straightforward as hypothesized from theoretical viewpoints. Indeed, long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) might be less oxidizable than others under specific experimental conditions. We investigated the free radical-scavenging potential of PUFA and the production of reactive oxygen/nitrogen (ROS/RNS) species by human aortic endothelial cells (HAECs) supplemented with different fatty acids. Fatty acid micelles scavenged superoxide in an unsaturation-dependent manner, up to eicosapentaenoic acid, which was the most effective fatty acid. Supplementation of HAEC with polyunsaturated fatty acids of the omega 3 series resulted in lower formation of ROS, as compared with cells supplemented with saturates, monounsaturates, or polyunsaturates of the omega 6 series. This effect was maximal at concentrations of 10muM. The effects of omega 3 fatty acids on reactive species production appear to be stronger when ROS were evaluated, as a milder, albeit significant effect was observed on RNS generation. Based on in vivo data showing reduced excretion of lipid peroxidation products after omega 3 intake and our data on ROS production and direct superoxide scavenging by LC-PUFAs, notably those of the omega 3 series, we propose that this series of fatty acid might act as indirect anti- rather than pro-oxidant in vascular endothelial cells, hence diminishing inflammation and, in turn, the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants*
  • Calcimycin / pharmacology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / pharmacology*
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Humans
  • Ionophores / pharmacology
  • Lipid Peroxidation / drug effects
  • Micelles
  • Peroxides / metabolism
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence


  • Antioxidants
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Ionophores
  • Micelles
  • Peroxides
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Calcimycin