Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Research Article

Current intakes of EPA and DHA in European populations and the potential of animal-derived foods to increase them

Symposium on ‘How can the n-3 content of the diet be improved?’

on 6 and 7 December 2007, The Third Congress of Société Français de Nutrition with the Nutrition Society, was held at Faculté de Médecine Henri Warembourg, Pôle Recherche, Lille, France.

D. Ian Givensa1 c1 and Rachael A. Gibbsa1

a1 Nutritional Sciences Research Unit, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AR, UK


The beneficial effects of long-chain (C chain ≥20) n-3 PUFA are well documented and, overall, increased intake reduces risk of CVD. Recent evidence also points to a role in reducing age-related decline in cognitive function. The two key fatty acids are EPA (20:5) and DHA (22:6), with current UK recommendation for adults being 450 mg EPA+DHA/d. Whilst some EPA and DHA can be synthesised in vivo from α-linolenic acid, recent data indicate this source to be very limited, suggesting that EPA and DHA should be classified as dietary essentials. In many parts of Europe the daily intake of EPA+DHA by adults and especially young adults (18–24 years) is <100 mg/d, since many never eat oily fish. Poultry meat contributes small but worthwhile amounts of EPA+DHA. Studies to enrich the EPA+DHA content of animal-derived foods mainly use fish oil in the diet of the animal. Recent work has shown that such enrichment has the potential to provide to the UK adult diet a daily intake of EPA+DHA of about 230 mg, with poultry meat providing the largest amount (74 mg). There are, however, concerns that the continued and possibly increased use of fish oils in animals' diets is not sustainable and alternative approaches are being examined, including the genetic modification of certain plants to allow them to synthesise EPA and DHA from shorter-chain precursors.

(Online publication May 23 2008)


c1 Corresponding author: Professor Ian Givens, fax +44 118 378, email