AbstractIn a number of diseases, plasma levels of linoleic acid are normal or elevated while those of gamma-linolenic acid (18:3n-6, GLA) and further metabolites are below normal. Evening primrose oil (EPO), similar to safflower oil (SFO) except that it contains 8-9% of 18:3n-6, has been proposed as a therapeutic agent in these diseases, such as atopic eczema. There is argument as to whether an appropriate placebo for clinical studies on EPO should be an inert material such as paraffin, or a linoleic acid--containing oil such as SFO. We have therefore compared in normal humans the effects on plasma fatty acids of administering EPO, SFO and paraffin for 10 days. Paraffin had no effect on any fatty acid in any fraction. EPO raised the level of 20:3n-6 (dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid, DGLA) the immediate metabolite of GLA but had no significant effect on arachidonic acid. In surprising contrast, SFO raised the levels of linoleic and of arachidonic acids, without raising those of DGLA. This suggests that linoleic acid may be rapidly converted to arachidonic acid by a tightly linked enzyme sequence: GLA, in contrast, may be rapidly converted to DGLA but then only slowly on to arachidonic acid. These results are consistent with recent in vitro observations by others on rat hepatocytes and human fibroblasts.
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