Article Text

Download PDFPDF
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}


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.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • 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.