Comprehensive profiling of plasma fatty acid concentrations in young healthy Canadian adults

PLoS One. 2015 Feb 12;10(2):e0116195. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116195. eCollection 2015.


Circulating fatty acids (FA) are associated with a multitude of chronic diseases. However, a major gap in establishing such relationships is the lack of accepted fatty acid reference ranges representing healthy individuals. Data on validated FA reference ranges would provide a better understanding of study baseline measures and aid in the evaluation and interpretation of pharmaceutical or dietary interventions. Reference ranges for plasma FA levels have been reported in a few small studies and on a limited number of FA. Therefore, we determined the average and percentiles of a broad set of 61 FA (C14 - C24:1) from plasma total lipids from an ethnically diverse population of healthy young Canadian males and females (Total n = 826). Plasma concentrations of some of the major FA ranged from 0.3 to 4.1 mmol/L for palmitic acid, 0.1 to 1.0 mmol/L for stearic acid, 0.03 to 3.2 mmol/L for oleic acid, 0.2 to 5.0 mmol/L for linoleic acid (LA), 12.0 to 186.9 μmol/L for α-linolenic acid, and 7.2 to 237.5 μmol/L for docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Males had significantly higher plasma concentrations of γ-linolenic acid (GLA) and n-3 docosapentaenoic acid and lower concentrations of palmitoleic acid, LA and DHA than females. Comparison of FA concentrations between Caucasians, East Asians and South Asians revealed that South Asians had significantly lower levels of palmitoleic acid (p < 0.01) and oleic acid (p = 0.01) while East Asians had lower levels of GLA (p = 0.02) and dihomo-γ-linolenic acid (p = 0.03). Overall, these data provide a comprehensive set of quantitative values that profiles a small cohort of Canadians which highlights the utility of establishing validated FA reference ranges that may be used to understand how deficient, suboptimal, or excess amounts of a given FA may be associated with chronic disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Fatty Acids / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reference Values
  • Young Adult


  • Fatty Acids

Grants and funding

This research was funded by grants from the Advanced Food and Materials Network (AES), the Public Health Agency of Canada (DMM and AB), and the Canada Foundation for Innovation with matching funds from the Ontario Research Fund (DWLM and DMM) and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (DWLM). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.