Plasma fatty acid patterns were assessed by gas liquid chromatography in 73 patients with active inflammatory bowel disease and 107 healthy controls. The influence of the disease activity on fatty acid profile was also investigated. Plasma fatty acid patterns in patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease were similar. Plasma C18:3n3 and C22:6n3 were significantly higher in active ulcerative colitis (p = 0.0143 and p < 0.00001 respectively) and in Crohn's disease (p < 0.00001 for both) than in controls, whereas C20:3n6 was significantly lower in patients than in controls, both in ulcerative colitis (p = 0.0001) and in Crohn's disease (p = 0.0041). In more severe disease, plasma polyunsaturated fatty acid concentrations fell with a significant stepwise decrease in the desaturation index (p = 0.0031 in ulcerative colitis and p = 0.0355 in Crohn's disease). Even in patients with severe disease, however, plasma n3 fatty acids (C18:3n3 and C22:6n3) never fell below those of healthy controls. These findings suggest that in active inflammatory bowel disease, an increased biosynthesis might coexist with an increased consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids. These observations may be of relevance in the pathogenesis of the disease as polyunsaturated fatty acids are involved in tissue eicosanoid synthesis and cellular membrane function, including that of immunocompetent cells. These results also question the rationale of using n3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.
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