Background: Plasma phospholipid fatty acids have been correlated with food intakes in populations with homogeneous dietary patterns. However, few data are available on populations with heterogeneous dietary patterns.
Objective: The objective was to investigate whether plasma phospholipid fatty acids are suitable biomarkers of dietary intakes across populations involved in a large European multicenter study.
Design: A cross-sectional study design nested to the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) was conducted to determine plasma fatty acid profiles in >3,000 subjects from 16 centers, who had also completed 24-h dietary recalls and dietary questionnaires. Plasma fatty acids were assessed by capillary gas chromatography. Ecological and individual correlations were calculated between fatty acids and select food groups.
Results: The most important determinant of plasma fatty acids was region, which suggests that the variations across regions are largely due to different food intakes. Strong ecological correlations were observed between fish intake and long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (r = 0.78, P < 0.01), olive oil and oleic acid (r = 0.73, P < 0.01), and margarine and elaidic acid (r = 0.76, P < 0.01). Individual correlations varied across the regions, particularly between olive oil and oleic acid and between alcohol and the saturation index, as an indicator of stearoyl CoA desaturase activity.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that specific plasma phospholipid fatty acids are suitable biomarkers of some food intakes in the EPIC Study. Moreover, these findings suggest complex interactions between alcohol intake and fatty acid metabolism, which warrants further attention in epidemiologic studies relating dietary fatty acids to alcohol-related cancers and other chronic diseases.