Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Conference on ‘PUFA mediators: implications for human health’

Symposium 1: PUFA: health effects and health claims

Protective effects of dietary PUFA against chronic disease: evidence from epidemiological studies and intervention trials

The Nutrition Society Scottish Section meeting, Pollock Halls, Edinburgh. 18–19 March 2013.

Thomas A. B. Sanders 

Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division, School of Medicine, King's College London, Franklin-Wilkins Building, 150 Stamford Street, London SE1 9NH, UK


This review considers evidence for a protective effect of PUFA on chronic disease. Estimates of PUFA intakes in prospective cohort studies are usually based on FFQ or biomarkers of intake. Cohort studies suggest that both linoleic and linolenic acid intake are associated with a lower risk of CHD. The intake of fish, the major source of long-chain n-3 PUFA is associated with a lower risk of both stroke and CHD, particularly sudden cardiac death. No relationship with common sites of cancer (breast and colon) and PUFA has been found. However, some recent studies suggest an association of high intakes of n-3 PUFA with risk of prostate cancer. An updated Cochrane review of dietary fat modification (replacing SFA with PUFA) randomised controlled trials to prevent CHD found a 14 % lower incidence and a non-significant 7 % lower mortality from CHD. The effects of an increased intake of n-3 PUFA on CHD incidence mortality have been tested in patients with pre-existing CHD in randomised controlled trials. Meta-analysis of these trials showed no overall benefit on total mortality or CVD incidence but a trend for lower risk of cardiac death was 0·91 (95 % CI 0·85, 0·98). At present, there is little evidence from other trials demonstrating the clear benefits or harm from increased intakes of PUFA. In conclusion, present evidence intakes benefit from partial replacement of SFA with a balanced mixture of n-6 and n-3 PUFA which may contribute to CVD prevention.

(Online publication December 05 2013)

Key Words:

  • PUFA;
  • n-3 Fatty acids;
  • CVD;
  • Inflammatory disease


  • ALA:α-linolenic acid;
  • LA:linoleic acid


Corresponding author: Professor T. A. B. Sanders, fax +44 (0) 207 848 4171, email