Thorax 63:208-214 doi:10.1136/thx.2007.090399
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

The relation between dietary intake of individual fatty acids, FEV1 and respiratory disease in Dutch adults

  1. T M McKeever1,
  2. S A Lewis1,
  3. P A Cassano2,
  4. M Ocké3,
  5. P Burney4,
  6. J Britton1,
  7. H A Smit3
  1. 1
    University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK
  2. 2
    Cornell University, New York, USA
  3. 3
    National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, The Netherlands
  4. 4
    Imperial College London, London, UK
  1. Dr T M McKeever, University of Nottingham, Clinical Science Building, City Hospital, Nottingham NG5 1PB, UK; tricia.mckeever{at}
  • Received 11 September 2007
  • Accepted 13 September 2007
  • Published Online First 27 September 2007


Background: A reduced dietary intake of n-3 fatty acids, in association with increased n-6 fatty acid intake, has been proposed as a potential aetiological factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. However, the relative importance of individual fatty acids within the n-3 and n-6 categories on this effect has not been widely investigated. We have studied the relation between individual fatty acid intakes, lung function and self-reported respiratory symptoms and diagnoses in a representative sample of more than 13 000 Dutch adults.

Methods: Intake of individual fatty acids was estimated by a food frequency questionnaire and analysed in relation to measures of forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) and to questionnaire reported wheeze, asthma and COPD symptoms.

Results: After adjusting for confounding, we found no protective association between individual n-3 fatty acid intakes and FEV1. Higher intakes of some n-6 fatty acids were associated with lower FEV1, this effect being most marked for c22:4 n-6 docosatetraenoic acid (reduction in FEV1 between the highest and lowest quintile of intake 54.5 ml (95% CI −81.6 to −27.4)). Most of the n-6 fatty acid effects interacted significantly with smoking, their effects being strongest in current smokers. Individual n-3 fatty acid intakes were generally associated with a higher risk of wheeze in the past year, but otherwise there was little or no association between fatty acid intake and wheeze, doctor diagnosed asthma or other respiratory symptoms.

Conclusions: A high intake of n-3 fatty acids does not appear to protect against COPD or asthma, but a high intake of several n-6 fatty acids is associated with a significant reduction in FEV1, particularly in smokers. These findings indicate that high dietary intake of n-6 fatty acids, rather than reduced n-3 intake, may have an adverse effect on lung health.


  • Funding: Funded by the Wellcome Trust, Ministry of Public Health, Welfare and Sport of The Netherlands, and by the Institute of Public Health and the Environment.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethics approval: Data collection for this research was approved by the Dutch Medical Ethics Committee.