Skip to main content

Ethnic differences in early pregnancy maternal n-3 and n-6 fatty acid concentrations: an explorative analysis

  • Manon van Eijsden (a1) (a2), Gerard Hornstra (a3), Marcel F. van der Wal (a1) and Gouke J. Bonsel (a4)

Ethnicity-related differences in maternal n-3 and n-6 fatty acid status may be relevant to ethnic disparities in birth outcomes observed worldwide. The present study explored differences in early pregnancy n-3 and n-6 fatty acid composition of maternal plasma phospholipids between Dutch and ethnic minority pregnant women in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, with a focus on the major functional fatty acids EPA (20 : 5n-3), DHA (22 : 6n-3), dihomo-γ-linolenic acid (DGLA; 20 : 3n-6) and arachidonic acid (AA; 20 : 4n-6). Data were derived from the Amsterdam Born Children and their Development (ABCD) cohort (inclusion January 2003 to March 2004). Compared with Dutch women (n 2443), Surinamese (n 286), Antillean (n 63), Turkish (n 167) and Moroccan (n 241) women had generally lower proportions of n-3 fatty acids (expressed as percentage of total fatty acids) but higher proportions of n-6 fatty acids (general linear model; P < 0·001). Ghanaian women (n 54) had higher proportions of EPA and DHA, but generally lower proportions of n-6 fatty acids (P < 0·001). Differences were most pronounced in Turkish and Ghanaian women, who, by means of a simple questionnaire, reported the lowest and highest fish consumption respectively. Adjustment for fish intake, however, hardly attenuated the differences in relative EPA, DHA, DGLA and AA concentrations between the various ethnic groups. Given the limitations of this observational study, further research into the ethnicity-related differences in maternal n-3 and n-6 fatty acid patterns is warranted, particularly to elucidate the explanatory role of fatty acid intake v. metabolic differences.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Ethnic differences in early pregnancy maternal n-3 and n-6 fatty acid concentrations: an explorative analysis
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Ethnic differences in early pregnancy maternal n-3 and n-6 fatty acid concentrations: an explorative analysis
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Ethnic differences in early pregnancy maternal n-3 and n-6 fatty acid concentrations: an explorative analysis
      Available formats
Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Dr Manon van Eijsden, fax +31 20 5555160, email
Hide All
1Troe, EJ, Raat, H, Jaddoe, VW, et al. (2007) Explaining differences in birthweight between ethnic populations. The Generation R study. BJOG 114, 15571565.
2Harding, S, Rosato, MG & Cruickshank, JK (2004) Lack of change in birthweights of infants by generational status among Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean, and Black African mothers in a British cohort study. Int J Epidemiol 33, 12791285.
3Shiono, PH, Rauh, VA, Park, M, et al. (1997) Ethnic differences in birthweight: the role of lifestyle and other factors. Am J Public Health 87, 787793.
4Suitor, CW, Gardner, JD & Feldstein, ML (1990) Characteristics of diet among a culturally diverse group of low-income pregnant women. J Am Diet Assoc 90, 543549.
5Siega-Riz, AM, Bodnar, LM & Savitz, DA (2002) What are pregnant women eating? Nutrient and food group differences by race. Am J Obstet Gynecol 186, 480486.
6Arab, L, Carriquiry, A, Steck-Scott, S, et al. (2003) Ethnic differences in the nutrient intake adequacy of premenopausal US women: results from the third national health examination survey. J Am Diet Assoc 103, 10081014.
7Rees, GA, Doyle, W, Srivasta, A, et al. (2005) The nutrient intakes of mothers of low birth weight babies – a comparison of ethnic groups in East London, UK. Matern Child Nutr 1, 9199.
8Uauy, R, Treen, M & Hoffman, DR (1989) Essential fatty acid metabolism and requirements during development. Semin Perinatol 13, 118130.
9Allen, KG & Harris, MA (2001) The role of n-3 fatty acids in gestation and parturition. Exp Biol Med 226, 498506.
10Uauy, R, Calderon, F & Mena, P (2001) Essential fatty acids in somatic growth and brain development. World Rev Nutr Diet 89, 134160.
11Innis, SM (2003) Perinatal biochemistry and physiology of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. J Pediatr 143, Suppl. 4, S1S8.
12van Eijsden, M, Hornstra, G, van der Wal, MF, et al. (2008) Maternal n-3, n-6, and trans fatty acid profile early in pregnancy and term birth weight: a prospective cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr 87, 887895.
13Dirix, CE, Kester, AD & Hornstra, G (2008) Associations between neonatal birth dimensions and maternal essential and trans fatty acid contents during pregnancy and at delivery. Br J Nutr, (Epublication ahead of print version 10 July 2008).
14Maniongui, C, Blond, JP, Ulmann, L, et al. (1993) Age-related changes in Δ6 and Δ5 desaturase activities in rat liver microsomes. Lipids 28, 291297.
15Al, MD, van Houwelingen, AC & Hornstra, G (1997) Relation between birth order and the maternal and neonatal docosahexaenoic acid status. Eur J Clin Nutr 51, 548553.
16Levant, B, Ozias, MK & Carlson, SE (2007) Diet (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acid content and parity affect liver and erythrocyte phospholipid fatty acid composition in female rats. J Nutr 137, 24252430.
17Sontrop, JM, Campbell, MK, Evers, SE, et al. (2007) Fish consumption among pregnant women in London, Ontario: associations with socio-demographic and health and lifestyle factors. Can J Public Health 98, 389394.
18Warensjö, E, Örhvall, M & Vessby, B (2006) Fatty acid composition and estimated desaturase activities are associated with obesity and lifestyle variables in men and women. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 16, 128136.
19Simon, JA, Fong, J, Bernert, JT, et al. (1996) Relation of smoking and alcohol consumption to serum fatty acids. Am J Epidemiol 144, 325334.
20Pawlosky, R, Hibbeln, J, Wegher, B, et al. (1999) The effects of cigarette smoking on the metabolism of essential fatty acids. Lipids 34, Suppl., S287.
21van Houwelingen, AC, Sørensen, JD, Hornstra, G, et al. (1995) Essential fatty acid status in neonates after fish-oil supplementation during late pregnancy. Br J Nutr 74, 723731.
22Hjartåker, A, Lund, E & Bjerve, KS (1997) Serum phospholipid fatty acid composition and habitual intake of marine foods registered by a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire. Eur J Clin Nutr 51, 736742.
23Dunstan, JA, Mori, TA, Barden, A, et al. (2004) Effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in pregnancy on maternal and fetal erythrocyte fatty acid composition. Eur J Clin Nutr 58, 429437.
24Williams, MA, Frederick, IO, Qiu, C, et al. (2006) Maternal erythrocyte omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and plasma lipid concentrations, are associated with habitual dietary fish consumption in early pregnancy. Clin Biochem 39, 10631070.
25Goedhart, G, van Eijsden, M & van der Wal, MF (2008) Ethnic differences in term birthweight: the role of constitutional and environmental factors. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol 22, 360368.
26van Eijsden, M, van der Wal, MF & Bonsel, GJ (2006) Folic acid knowledge and use in a multi-ethnic pregnancy cohort: the role of language proficiency. BJOG 113, 14461451.
27van Eijsden, M, van der Wal, MF, Hornstra, G, et al. (2005) Can whole-blood samples be stored over 24 hours without compromising stability of C-reactive protein, retinol, ferritin, folic acid and fatty acids in epidemiologic research? Clin Chem 51, 230232.
28Al, MD, van Houwelingen, AC, Kester, AD, et al. (1995) Maternal essential fatty acid patterns during normal pregnancy and their relationship to the neonatal essential fatty acid status. Br J Nutr 74, 5568.
29Otto, SJ, van Houwelingen, AC & Hornstra, G (2000) The effect of different supplements containing docosahexaenoic acid on plasma and erythrocyte fatty acids of healthy non-pregnant women. Nutr Res 20, 917927.
30Hoving, EB, Jansen, G, Volmer, M, et al. (1988) Profiling of plasma cholesterol ester and triglyceride fatty acids as their methyl esters by capillary gas chromatography, preceded by a rapid aminopropyl-silica column chromatographic separation of lipid classes. J Chromatogr 434, 395409.
31Kaluzny, MA, Duncan, LA, Merritt, MV, et al. (1985) Rapid separation of lipid classes in high yield and purity bonded phase columns. J Lipid Res 26, 135140.
32Morrison, WR & Smith, LM (1964) Preparation of fatty acid methylesters and dimethylacetals from lipids with boron fluoride–methanol. J Lipid Res 5, 600608.
33Allison, PD (2001) Missing Data. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
34Olsen, SF & Secher, NJ (2002) Low consumption of seafood in early pregnancy as a risk factor for preterm delivery: prospective cohort study. BMJ 324, 447450.
35Racine, RA & Deckelbaum, RJ (2007) Sources of the very-long-chain unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 10, 123128.
36Tabachnik, B & Fidell, L (2007) Using Multivariate Statistics, 5th ed.Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
37Otto, SJ, van Houwelingen, AC, Antal, M, et al. (1997) Maternal and neonatal essential fatty acid status in phospholipids: an international comparative study. Eur J Clin Nutr 51, 232242.
38Emken, EA, Adlof, RO & Gulley, RM (1994) Dietary linoleic acid influences desaturation and acylation of deuterium-labeled linoleic acid and linolenic acids in young adult males. Biochim Biophys Acta 1213, 277288.
39Grønn, M, Gørbitz, C, Christensen, E, et al. (1991) Dietary n-6 fatty acids inhibit the incorporation of dietary n-3 fatty acids in thrombocyte and serum phospholipids in humans: a controlled dietetic study. Scand J Clin Lab Invest 51, 255263.
40Cho, HP, Nakamura, MT & Clarke, SD (1999) Cloning, expression, and nutritional regulation of the mammalian Δ-6 desaturase. J Biol Chem 274, 471477.
41Schaeffer, L, Gohlke, H, Muller, M, et al. (2006) Common genetic variants of the FADS1 FADS2 gene cluster and their reconstructed haplotypes are associated with the fatty acid composition in phospholipids. Hum Mol Genet 15, 17451756.
42Otto, SJ, van Houwelingen, AC, Badart-Smook, A, et al. (2001) Changes in the maternal essential fatty acid profile during early pregnancy and the relation of the profile to diet. Am J Clin Nutr 73, 302307.
43Burdge, GC, Sherman, RC, Ali, Z, et al. (2006) Docosahexaenoic acid is selectively enriched in plasma phospholipids during pregnancy in Trinidian women – results of a pilot study. Reprod Nutr Dev 46, 6367.
44Goedhart, G, van Eijsden, M, van der Wal, MF, et al. (2008) Ethnic differences in preterm birth and its subtypes: the effect of a cumulative risk profile. BJOG 115, 710719.
45Barham, JB, Edens, MB, Fonteh, AN, et al. (2000) Addition of eicosapentaenoic acid to γ-linolenic acid-supplemented diets prevents serum arachidonic accumulation in humans. J Nutr 130, 19251931.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

British Journal of Nutrition
  • ISSN: 0007-1145
  • EISSN: 1475-2662
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed