Conversion ratios of n-3 fatty acids between plasma and erythrocytes: A systematic review and meta-regression

Xue Feng Hu, Simran K. Sandhu, William S. Harris, Hing Man Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


As biomarkers of dietary intake or disease risk factor, n-3 fatty acid (FA) can be measured in plasma phospholipids (PL), total lipids (TL) or erythrocytes. However, the numeric relationships between n-3 FA in these lipid pools are not clear. Our goal was to derive conversion ratios for plasma and erythrocyte n-3 FA. Potential studies were identified through systematic literature search in PubMed, Embase and the Cochrane Library of Systematic reviews (1950 to October 2014). In all, fifty-six studies reporting n-3 in healthy individuals were included, of which thirty-four articles reported plasma PL and erythrocytes, and twenty-two reported plasma TL and erythrocytes. Meta-regressions were performed to quantify the ratio between plasma and erythrocyte n-3 FA weight percentages, controlling for covariates including age, sex and study design. The conversion ratios from plasma PL to erythrocytes for EPA, DHA, DPA and total n-3 PUFA are 0·75, 1·16, 2·32 and 1·22; the corresponding conversion ratios from plasma TL to erythrocytes are 1·00, 2·10, 3·85 and 2·08, respectively. The conversion ratios were validated using reported values from the literature and measured data from fifty individuals. The relative error of the predicted results were within 10 % of the mean reported values except for EPA, and the individual measured data except for DPA, in plasma TL. The conversion ratios between plasma PL and erythrocytes were more stable compared with plasma TL. Such conversion ratios will be useful for nutritionists or public health professionals to assess FA profiles of different populations using data collected with different methodologies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1162-1173
Number of pages12
JournalBritish Journal of Nutrition
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 28 2017


  • Conversion factors
  • Erythrocytes
  • Plasma
  • n-3 Fatty acids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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