1. Diene-conjugated fatty acids are one of the products of free-radical attack upon lipids and therefore have been used as markers of such attack. The major diene-conjugated fatty acid in human tissue and serum is an isomer of linoleic acid (9,12-octadecadienoic acid), namely 9,11-octadecadienoic acid. Diet may be another source of this isomer, raising questions as to its value as a free-radical marker. The aim of this study was to determine the importance of diet as a source of 9,11-octadecadienoic acid in phospholipid esterified fatty acids in human serum.

2. Foodstuffs rich in 9,11-octadecadienoic acid were identified. Fourteen subjects volunteered to alter their diets, either increasing ('high diet') or decreasing ('low diet') their intake of these foodstuffs for 3 weeks. Where subjects undertook both diets, a washout period of at least 3 weeks was allowed between phases.

3. Seven-day diet histories were kept and scored with respect to their content of 9,11-octadecadienoic acid. The concentrations of 9,11-octadecadienoic acid and linoleic acid in serum phospholipids were measured by h.p.l.c. with u.v. detection.

4. The percentage molar ratio of 9,11-octadecadienoic acid to linoleic acid was calculated. The percentage molar ratio rose significantly on the ‘high diet’ [1.3(0.4) versus 1.9(0.7), P=0.01, mean (SD)] and fell significantly on the ‘low diet’ [1.6(0.4) versus 1.1(0.4), P=0.004, means (SD)]. There was a significant correlation between the change in dietary intake of 9,11-octadecadienoic acid and the change in the percentage molar ratio (r= 0.829, P = 0.001).

5. The concentration of 9,11-octadecadienoic acid in serum phospholipids is influenced by diet. Its use as a marker of free-radical activity is questionable and at least in need of careful interpretation.

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