Non-esterified fatty acids as biomarkers of diet and glucose homeostasis in pregnancy: The impact of fatty acid reporting methods Academic Article uri icon

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  • Background

    Sparse data exists on the utility of individual serum non-esterified fatty acids (NEFAs) as clinical and dietary biomarkers and how reporting methods could affect these associations. We investigated the associations of 19 serum NEFAs expressed as µM or mol%, with self-reported dietary intake data, and cardiometabolic health indicators in pregnant women.


    In this cross-sectional study, 273 pregnant women in their second trimester each completed a semi-quantitative food-frequency questionnaire and provided fasting serum samples. Comprehensive serum NEFA analysis was performed by multisegment injection-nonaqueous capillary electrophoresis-mass spectrometry. We evaluated the associations of NEFAs using two different reporting methods, with diet quality, specific foods intake, and measures of adiposity and glucose homeostasis.


    Consistently stronger dietary correlations were observed when expressed as mol%. Serum ω-3 NEFAs were associated with diet quality and fish/fish oil daily servings (DHA mol%, r= 0.37; p = 4.8e-10), and odd-chain NEFAs were associated with full-fat dairy intake (15:0 mol%, r = 0.23; p = 9.0e-5). Glucose intolerance was positively associated with odd chain NEFAs as expressed in µM (r = 0.21; p= 0.001) but inversely associated when expressed as mol% (r = -0.31; p= 2.2e-7). In contrast, monounsaturated NEFAs (µM and mol%) had robust positive associations with pre-pregnancy BMI, second trimester skin-fold thickness, glycated hemoglobin, fasting glucose, and glucose intolerance.


    This study demonstrates the utility of specific NEFAs and their sub-classes as viable dietary and clinical biomarkers when reported as their relative proportions. More research is needed to investigate inconsistencies between absolute concentrations and relative proportions when reporting fatty acids.

publication date

  • January 2022

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