Essential Fatty Acid Standards ........ A collection of w-3, w-6 and other essential fatty acid standards obtainable from one source

By: Pat Myers, AnalytiX Volume 7 Article 2

By Pat Myers, Technical Service Chemist

Essential fatty acids are nutrients that must be obtained from the diet because humans lack the anabolic processes for their synthesis. There are two closely related groups of essential fatty acids, the ω-3 and ω-6 fatty acids. Both are unsaturated fatty acids with the initial double bond between the third and fourth carbons or the sixth and seventh carbons as measured from the methyl end, respectively.

Essential fatty acids serve multiple purposes in the body including:

  • Production of eicosanoids, which affect inflammation and cellular function
  • Production of endogenous cannabinoids, which affect mood and behavior
  • Production of lipoxins and resolvins, which affect inflammation
  • Influence cell signaling
  • Regulation of blood pressure, blood clotting, lipid levels, immune response and gene expression


Seed oils are the primary dietary source of ω-6 fatty acids, while the ω-3 fatty acids are found in fish oils and some nut oils. Before the advent of agriculture, human diets are thought to have consisted of an equal amount of ω-6 and ω-3 fatty acids. In contrast, the current western diet has a ratio of ω-6 to ω-3 of 7:1. Low levels of the essential fatty acids, and in some cases an altered ratio of ω-6 to ω-3 fatty acids, play a key role in a number of human diseases.

Analytical standards for these compounds are necessary for monitoring their concentration in food, beverage and pharmaceutical products. Standards are also required for academic and industrial research into the safety and health effects of fatty acids and toward understanding their fundamental biochemistry.

Sigma-Aldrich offers many essential fatty acids as individual compounds or standards. Each product comes with a Certificate of Analysis that includes a purity determination. Standards are prepared gravimetrically using NIST traceable weights. The availability of small package sizes eliminates the need to buy bulk material as standards.

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