Fatty acids as biocompounds: their role in human metabolism, health and disease--a review. Part 1: classification, dietary sources and biological functions

Biomed Pap Med Fac Univ Palacky Olomouc Czech Repub. 2011 Jun;155(2):117-30. doi: 10.5507/bp.2011.038.


Background: Fatty acids are substantial components of lipids and cell membranes in the form of phospholipids. This review consists of two parts. The present part aims at describing fatty acid classification, dietary sources and biological functions. The second part will focus on fatty acid physiological roles and applications in human health and disease.

Results: In humans, not all fatty acids can be produced endogenously due to the absence of certain desaturases. Thus, specific fatty acids termed essential (linoleic, alpha-linolenic) need to be taken from the diet. Other fatty acids whose synthesis depends on essential fatty acid intake include eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, found in oily fish. Dietary sources of saturated fatty acids are animal products (butter, lard) and tropical plant oils (coconut, palm), whereas sources of unsaturated fatty acids are vegetable oils (such as olive, sunflower, and soybean oils) and marine products (algae and fish oils). Saturated fatty acids have been related to adverse health effects, whereas unsaturated fatty acids, especially monounsaturated and n-3 polyunsaturated, are thought to be protective. In addition, trans fatty acids have been shown to have negative effects on health, whereas conjugated fatty acids might be beneficial. Lastly, fatty acids are the main components of lipid classes (triacylglycerols, phospholipids, cholesteryl esters, non-esterified fatty acids).

Conclusion: Fatty acids are important biocompounds which take part in complex metabolic pathways, thus having major biological roles. They are obtained from various dietary sources which determine the type of fat consumed and consequently health outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids / classification
  • Fatty Acids / physiology*
  • Humans


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids