Omega-6 fatty acids and heart health

Monday, 16 February, 2009

A new science advisory from the American Heart Association (AHA) has concluded that omega-6 fatty acids may decrease risk for heart disease when part of a healthy eating plan. Omega-6s are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids naturally occurring in soybean oil, nuts and seeds. These findings dispel debate that omega-6s may cause inflammation leading to heart disease.

Circulation, an AHA journal, has published the findings that diets rich in omega-6 fatty acids prove to be heart healthy. Dr William Harris, PhD, and colleagues from the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota, felt it was important to objectively evaluate reports that omega-6s promote inflammation and thus may increase heart disease risk.

In a statement from AHA, Dr Harris explained, “That idea is based more on assumptions and extrapolations than on hard data.” While an acid that causes early stages of inflammation may be formed from omega-6s, they also produce anti-inflammatory properties — particularly in the lining of blood vessels — that are much stronger.

After reviewing results of more than two dozen controlled and observational studies, Dr Harris determined that participants in the controlled trials consuming diets higher in omega-6s had less incidence of heart disease than those whose omega-6 intake was low. A meta-analysis of several trials indicated that replacing saturated fats with omega-6 lowered heart disease risk by 24%.

Soybean oil is about 50% omega-6 fatty acids, one of the most concentrated sources, while olive oil and canola oil are both low in omega-6s.

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