The assessment of volatile compounds (VOCs) for disease diagnosis is a growing area of research. There is a need to provide hard evidence i.e. biochemical routes, to justify putative VOC biomarkers, as in many cases this remains uncertain, which weakens their authenticity. Recently reports of volatile hydrocarbons and or aldehydes in bodily fluids and breath have been attributed to oxidative stress, although as discussed here, less compounds have been reported than expected from a mechanistic examination. Oxidative stress can result from many disease states which produce inflammation, and a better understanding of the interconnection between oxidative stress and the release of VOCs from target diseased and healthy organs could greatly help diagnoses. It is generally considered that oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids are a major source of these VOCs. An investigation listing the many possible volatile oxidation products hasn’t been undertaken. This is described here using a mechanistic analysis (based on the literature) of the compounds derived from molecular cleavage and the results compared with a recent review of all the VOCs emanating from the human body, which satisfactorily explains the presence of at least 100 VOCs. Six important unsaturated fatty acids, oleic, palmitoleic, linoleic, linolenic, arachidonic, and cervonic acids have been shown to be capable of producing up to 18 n+6 unique breakdown products (where n = the number of alkene double bonds in the fatty acid hydrocarbon chain). In many cases these haven’t been reported. We suggest several reasons for this: these VOCs haven’t been expected, so researchers are not looking for them and importantly some are not present in the mass spectral libraries, or they are too low a concentration to have been detected. Furthermore a explanation for the origins of branched aldehydes and other compounds arising from bacterial oxidative metabolism of unsaturated fatty acids are described.
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