The role of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in psychiatric illness is a topic of public health importance. This report describes development and biomarker validation of a 21-item, self-report food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) intended for use in psychiatric research to assess intake of α-linolenic acid (18:3n-3 [ALA]), docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3 [DHA]), and eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3 [EPA]).

In a cross-sectional study conducted from September 2006 to September 2008, sixty-one ethnically diverse adult participants with (n=34) and without (n=27) major depressive disorder completed this n-3 PUFA FFQ and provided a plasma sample. Plasma levels of n-3 PUFAs EPA and DHA, and n-6 PUFA arachidonic acid (20:4n-6 [AA]) were quantified by gas chromatography. Using Spearman's ρ, FFQ-estimated intake correlated with plasma levels of DHA (r=0.50; P<0.0001) and EPA (r=0.38; P=0.002), but not with ALA levels (r=0.22; P=0.086).

Participants were classified into quartiles by FFQ-estimated intake and plasma PUFA concentrations. Efficacy of the FFQ to rank individuals into same or adjacent plasma quartiles was 83% for DHA, 78.1% for EPA, and 70.6% for ALA; misclassification into extreme quartiles was 4.9% for DHA, 6.5% for EPA, and 8.2% for ALA.

FFQ-estimated EPA intake and plasma EPA were superior to plasma AA levels as predictors of the plasma AA to EPA ratio. This brief FFQ can provide researchers and clinicians with valuable information concerning dietary intake of DHA and EPA.