November 2012

The discovery of essential fatty acids

In the early 1900s, dietary fat was viewed simply as a source of calories, interchangeable with carbohydrates. But in 1929 and 1930, a husband-and-wife team published two papers in the Journal of Biological Chemistry that turned the notion on its head. Through meticulous analyses of rats fed special diets, George and Mildred Burr discovered that fatty acids were critical to health. If fatty acids were missing in the diet, a deficiency syndrome ensued and often led to death. The Burrs identified linoleic acid as an essential fatty acid and coined the phrase “essential fatty acids.”

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