Annals of nutrition & metabolism

Gender differences in the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid status: systematic review of 51 publications.

PMID 23327902


Sex hormones may influence the activity of enzymes which are involved in the synthesis of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. The objective of this review was to assess the role of gender in determining the fatty acid composition of human samples, like plasma and erythrocyte membrane lipids, and adipose tissue. The method included a structured search strategy on MEDLINE, Scopus and the Cochrane databases, with formal inclusion/exclusion criteria, data extraction procedure and meta-analysis. We evaluated 51 publications, dated from 1975 to 2011. Meta-analysis showed significantly lower values of both arachidonic acid (AA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in total plasma lipids (32 and 33 studies) and in plasma phospholipids (PL; 21 and 23 studies) in men than in women. Primary analysis of the phospholipid fraction showed the mean difference in AA to be 0.42% weight/weight (95% CI: 0.18-0.65, n = 7,769) and in DHA 0.37% weight/weight (95% CI: 0.24-0.51, n = 8,541), while there was no gender difference in the values of linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid. This systematic review based on 51 publications showed significantly lower contribution of AA and DHA to plasma total lipids and plasma PL in men than in women. Gender distribution should be regarded as a significant potential confounding factor in every study assessing data on fatty acid composition.