Omega-3 Expert: New Science Links Omega-6 to Heart Benefits

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Sioux Falls, SD–Do omega-6 fatty acids fuel disease-causing inflammation or are they just as important as omega-3s in reducing risk of disease? Two new studies aim to help end that debate, according to a press release issued by OmegaQuant. The studies compared risk for developing a disease over time as a function of blood levels of linoleic acid (LA; the most consumed omega-6). Researchers looked specifically at cardiovascular disease (CVD) as well as diabetes.

The latest study, titled “Biomarkers of Dietary Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Incident Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality: An Individual-Level Pooled Analysis of 30 Cohort Studies” and published in the journal Circulation, pooled data from 30 prospective observational studies involving 68,659 people. The researchers determined that those in the top 10% of LA levels were 7% less likely to develop any CVD, 22% less likely to die of CVD and 12% less likely to have an ischemic stroke (blocked brain artery) compared with those in the bottom 10% of LA levels, according to OmegaQuant. 

The second study, titled “Omega-6 fatty acid biomarkers and incident type 2 diabetes: pooled analysis of individual-level data for 39 740 adults from 20 prospective cohort studies” and published in The Lancet 2017, analyzed data from 20 studies involving 39,740 people, with 4,347 new cases of diabetes occurred over time. According to the press release, people with the highest LA levels were 35% less likely to develop diabetes as those in the lowest 10% of LA levels.

“The health benefits or harms that may come from the consumption of omega-6 fatty acids–especially LA, which constitutes 99% of the omega-6 fatty acids in the diet–are controversial,” said OmegaQuant’s Dr. Bill Harris, one of the authors on the latest Circulation paper. “These two studies indicate that consuming more LA will likely lower risk for diabetes and CVD. This means that LA is good for us, not bad.” 

Dr. Harris explained that the controversy is due to the fact that LA can be converted into AA, which is the precursor to many pro-inflammatory molecules. That said, he noted, that very little LA is converted to AA; that AA also makes anti-inflammatory molecules; and that LA itself can be converted to anti-inflammatory molecules. 

Regardless of the biochemistry, Dr. Harris said, “the larger question of ‘Do people who eat more LA–or better yet, have higher blood levels of LA–get sicker than people who have lower levels?’ is just now beginning to get answered.”