Is a particular dietary recommendation harming people in the U.S.? For almost 20 years, scientists have been arguing over whether Americans and others on a typical Western diet are eating too much of omega-6s, a class of essential fatty acids. Some experts, notably ones affiliated with the American Heart Association, credit our current intake of omega-6s with lowering the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Others, which include biochemists, say the relatively high intake of omega-6 is a reason for a slew of chronic illnesses in the Western world, including asthma, various cancers, neurological disorders and cardiovascular disease itself.
At the center of this dispute is how omega-6s and their cousins, omega-3s, are biochemically processed in the body and the physiological outcomes of the metabolism (see box on the EFA naming convention). Both camps agree that a healthy diet requires both omega-3s and omega-6s. Omega-3s are sorely lacking in Western diets, so people need to increase their consumption of them. But the split comes over omega-6s: Are we or are we not eating too much of them?
In the debate on many blog articles , the omega-6’s are often percieved as the ‘bad ones’ , and the omega-3’s are being touted as the ‘good ones’ , where in fact both are needed in a good balanced ratio to eachother.
First, it is important to note that both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are absolutely needed in the body and both perform a variety of vital functions. Without either of these fatty acids, we would not live. The negative health consequences arise when omega-6 is present in great excess of omega-3.
It’s easy to think of omega-6’s as being “bad” and omega-3’s as being “good” but I don’t think this view is accurate. I believe that the negative health effects of omega-6’s are due to the fact that they are out of balance with omega-3’s in the Western diet and our body does not adapt well to the omega-6 overload. It’s quite possible that if we had an overload of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet we might be talking about the benefits of supplementation with omega-6 and the deleterious effects of omega-3.
And … here is an article about a possible dark side of the omega-3’s :
A new shock horror health story. ‘Taking health supplements with omega-3 fatty acids can increase the chances of contracting prostate cancer, according to new research.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found naturally in oily fish, frequently taken as supplements, and lauded for their anti-inflammatory properties, were found to increase the risk of high-grade disease by 71%.
( … )
The lesson here is that omega-3 is probably good for a number of things. And probably harmless or useless for a number of things, and probably harmful for a few things. Just don’t get carried away by the hype – the negative hype or the positive ones.
Omega-3 fatty acids high levels could have harmful health effects
A study led by researchers at Oregon State University, reveals that excessive consumption of omega 3 fatty acids can have unintended consequences in certain situations. These results are surprising considering the recent studies that have shown the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that these fatty acids benefit patients with cardiovascular disease and inflammatory diseases. These new reviews, which reveals unexpected data about these dietary supplements, urge researchers to establish the level standards based on the best evidence.
Later work, some of it done by Holman, went on to demonstrate that linoleic acid was critical in the human diet (5, 6). As more research gave credence to the Burrs’ work, a different mindset took hold that went to the other extreme. Nutritionists believed that linoleic acid was the only essential fatty acid. “The idea that linoleic acid was the essential fatty acid persisted for a long time, even into the 1990s,” says Salem. He adds the thinking was so pervasive that linoleic acid was the only fatty acid required to be added to infant formula. It was only in the mid-1990s that the World Health Organization “said infant formula should have a fatty acid distribution more like human milk, which contained other long-chain, polyunsaturated fatty acids as well,” says Salem, citing the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids DHA and arachidonic acid as examples.
Omega-3’s, the fatty acids, found in cold water fish, plant oils, some nuts and leafy green vegetables, are known for their health boosting properties. They’ve been linked with reduced heart disease, improved energy levels and better brain function including reduced levels of depression. It is no surprise then that sales of Omega-3 fish oil supplements are strong. But many people are confused about how much is enough, and recent research raises some new questions about overall health benefits. Please join us to discuss what Omega-3 fatty acids actually do in our bodies, how much we need, and how to best to get them.
Here is one interesting Question and Answer :
Q: I became severely allergic to fish and shellfish about 15 years ago. I used to eat fish between three and five times per week. Now I can’t eat it at all or take fish oil supplements. How can I get enough Omega-3 fatty acids? I am very concerned about this missing element in my diet. I eat healthy otherwise, lots of leafy greens, olive oil, etc. – From Facebook user Dale W.
A: Dr. Sherman: You should be able to safely take an Algal-sourced DHA if you wish. I would think that any certified vegan source of DHA would be safe. On the other hand, a good diet rich in walnuts, ground flaxseed or chia seed, and your leafy greens should be good.
Dr. Fotuhi: A person who is allergic to fish may not be allergic to Algal-DHA or other forms of DHA supplements. You can check with an allergy specialist.
Dr. Coates: We would recommend talking with your healthcare provider about other options to get Omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. There are two main types of Omega-3 fatty acids - short chain and long-chain. The Omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood and fish oil (EPA and DHA) are long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids, while those in plant products such as flaxseed and walnuts (alpha-linolenic acid) are short-chain Omega-3 fatty acids. Our bodies can convert short-chain Omega-3 fatty acids into long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids. Although this conversion process isn’t very efficient, it does mean that we don’t actually have to eat the long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids. So your health care provider may suggest incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet that contain alpha-linolenic acid, the short-chain Omega-3 fatty acid. Some foods are also fortified with these fatty acids.
There were also 4 pages of comments that followed this article ( had saved them on my laptop ) , but for some obscure reason they are removed .
About the supplementation with DHA oil made from micro algae , I found this study
However, the origin of EPA/DHA in aquatic ecosystems is algae. Certain microalgae produce high levels of EPA or DHA. Now, organically produced DHA-rich microalgae oil is available. Clinical trials with DHA-rich oil indicate comparable efficacies to fish oil for protection from cardiovascular risk factors by lowering plasma triglycerides and oxidative stress
To finish some very detailed biochemistry pages around omega-3 and omega-6 , for the hard-core science nerds