Dietary Linolenic Acid and Fasting Glucose and Insulin: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study


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Division of Aging, Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, 1620 Tremont Street, Third Floor, Boston, MA 02120. E-mail:


Objective: To assess whether dietary linolenic acid is associated with fasting insulin and glucose.

Research Methods and Procedures: In a cross-sectional design, we studied 3993 non-diabetic participants of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study 25 to 93 years of age. Linolenic acid was assessed through a food frequency questionnaire, and laboratory data were obtained after at least a 12-hour fast. We used generalized linear models to calculate adjusted means of insulin and glucose across quartiles of dietary linolenic acid.

Results: From the lowest to the highest sex-specific quartile of dietary linolenic acid, means ± standard error for logarithmic transformed fasting insulin were 4.06 ± 0.02 (reference), 4.09 ± 0.02, 4.13 ± 0.02, and 4.17 ± 0.02 pM, respectively (trend, p < 0.0001), after adjustment for age, sex, energy intake, waist-to-hip ratio, smoking, and high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol. When dietary linolenic acid was used as a continuous variable, the multivariable adjusted regression coefficient was 0.42 ± 0.08. There was no association between dietary linolenic acid and fasting glucose (trend p = 0.82).

Discussion: Our data suggest that higher consumption of dietary linolenic acid is associated with higher plasma insulin, but not glucose levels, in non-diabetic subjects. Additional studies are needed to assess whether higher intake of linolenic acid results in an increased insulin secretion and improved glucose use in vivo.