Dietary lipids from an evolutionary perspective: Sources, structures and functions

J. Bruce German

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Lipids are a complex group of biomolecules whose precise functions remain poorly understood. As a result of this poor understanding, it is difficult to make mechanistically based recommendations for appropriate dietary intakes. It is equally difficult to develop methods that are capable of diagnosing functional impairments because of insufficiencies or excesses in particular fatty acids. Lipids are abundant building blocks of cellular membranes, supply components for lipid particle assembly and substrates for metabolic fuel, and provide a precursor pool for an astonishingly diverse range of signalling molecules. In each of these broad functions, the functional consequences of different structures of fatty acids are not fully understood. According to research on membrane functions through early evolution, docosahexaenoic acid provides two biophysical properties to membranes - accelerating the lateral motion of lipids and proteins within the plane of the membrane and simultaneously slowing the rate of diffusion/leakage of charged species across the plane of the membrane. The range of fatty acid structures used as substrates for assembly of either lipoproteins or milk fat globules is broad, yet the functional consequences of differences are not known. Different lipids signal into a remarkable range of biological processes. Saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids are becoming recognized as signal molecules in their own right. The complex composition of human milk lipids implies that diets with a diversity of fatty acids in complex lipid forms and structures is more beneficial than a narrow range of any particular group of fatty acids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-16
Number of pages15
JournalMaternal and Child Nutrition
Issue numberSUPPL. 2
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Docosahexaenoic acid
  • Evolution
  • Lipid signals
  • Membrane structure and function
  • Milk fat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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