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Omega-6 is an essential fatty acid (EFA) that cannot be produced by the body. As a result, people have to obtain it from food or dietary supplements.
Omega-6 is found in foods like vegetable oils, grains, nuts, and seeds. Dietary supplements of omega-6 are extracted from black currant seed, borage seed, and evening primrose oils.
There are four main types of omega-6 fatty acids: linoleic acid (LA), which synthesizes hormones; arachidonic acid (ARA), which fights inflammation; gamma linoleic acid (GLA), which fights inflammation and limits cellular growth; and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which reduces feelings of hunger, helps the body lose weight, regulates immune function, and strengthens bones.
One of omega-6‘s primary functions is to fight inflammation. However, some experts believe that omega-6 can be pro-inflammatory when taken in high doses, especially if people follow the Western or Standard American Diet (SAD). The SAD contains 10- 50 times more omega-6 than the body needs. The abundance of omega-6 in the diet creates an imbalance of omega fatty acids in the body, which may lead to inflammation and disease.
Recently, other experts rejected the idea that omega-6 causes inflammation. They maintain that omega-6 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory even when people consume them in high quantities, so omega-6 has no effect on inflammation in the body.
What Do Different Experts Think?
1- Omega-6 Causes Inflammation:
Inflammation is an important part of an immune response that is triggered to fight infections or heal injuries. It occurs when the immune system recognizes that the body is under attack or if it needs to repair tissues or organs that have become damaged.
However, when inflammation becomes chronic, unnecessary, or exaggerated, it becomes a problem. Systemic inflammation may lead to chronic diseases and illnesses such as arthritis and heart disease.
Most medical and healthcare experts believe that omega-6 is anti-inflammatory. Studies on omega fatty acids indicate that the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the diet is 4:1.
Due to changes in the modern diet, the Western or Standard American Diet (SAD) contains many sources of omega-6 fatty acids. People are now using vegetable oils like safflower oil when cooking and consuming more grains and processed foods.
Accordingly, the current ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the SAD is between 10:1 and 50:1. The excessive amounts of omega-6 in the diet will cancel out omega-3’s benefits and lead to diseases and chronic inflammation.
Chris Kresser, the co-director of the California Center for Functional Medicine, argues that consuming too much omega-6 contributes to inflammation and other inflammatory diseases. This is because a high concentration of omega-6 in the body competes with the anti-inflammatory omega-3 and increases inflammation in the body.
Kresser says, "Since we get close to 10% of our calories from n-6 [omega-6], our tissue contains about as much n-6 as it possibly could. This creates a very inflammatory environment and goes a long way towards explaining why 4 in 10 people who die in the U.S. each year die of heart disease."
Research has shown that omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. For instance, the study, “Dietary omega-6, but not omega-3, polyunsaturated or saturated fatty acids increase inflammation in primary lung mesenchymal cells,” indicated that arachidonic acid (ARA) an omega-6 fatty acid, increased the number of inflammatory signaling molecules cytokines and interleukin-6 in the blood, which increases the level of inflammation in the body.
Another study, “Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acid, Ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 Intake, Inflammation, and Survival in Long-term Hemodialysis Patients,” indicated that high omega-6 intake may worsen inflammation and increase the risk of death in patients with kidney disease who are on dialysis.
Thus, research shows that consuming excess amounts of omega-6 may lead to an imbalance of omega fatty acids in the body that may cause inflammation to become worse. However, if people consume adequate amounts of omega-6, they can help their bodies fight inflammation and strengthen their immune system.
Medical experts urge people to maintain a healthy balance of omega-3 to omega-6 in the body to prevent inflammation. Scientists also call for more studies on omega-6 intake and inflammation as they don’t quite understand how omega-6 increases inflammation in the body.
2- Omega-6 Does Not Cause Inflammation:
Although many experts believe that omega-6 fatty acids can be proinflammatory, some experts’ opinion on this matter is changing. They argue that omega-6 fatty acids should not be demonized in the media as “bad fats” because, after all, they are an essential fatty acid.
Some experts also believe that omega-6 fatty acids like linoleic acid (LA) and gamma linoleic acid (GLA) that were once thought to increase inflammation have the opposite effect: they decrease inflammation.
Recent studies indicate that high amounts of omega-6 do not affect inflammation levels in the body. One study, “The associations of serum n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids with serum C-reactive protein in men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study,” shows that men who took omega-6 fatty acids have lower levels of the inflammatory marker CRP [C-reactive proteins] in their blood. As a result, those who had a high intake of omega-6 did not have an “increased anti-inflammatory response.”
Dr. William Harris, an omega fatty acid expert, believes that omega-6 is not responsible for inflammation that leads to heart disease. In the editorial, “Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease: Friend, Not Foe?” Harris writes that during Chowdhury et al.’s research, “there was no association between LA levels and disease, but contrary to the omega-6-are-inflammatory hypothesis, in 10 studies including some 23 000 individuals with more than 3700 CHD [coronary heart disease] events, higher levels of circulating AA [arachidonic acid], the presumed toxic mediator, were associated with lower risk for CHD events.”
Plus, other scientific evidence points to the fact that omega-6 may not affect inflammation. For instance, the 2018 review, “Omega-6 fats to prevent and treat heart and circulatory diseases,” examined different trials that looked at the association between omega-6 and the risk of heart disease and other health risks. It found that “there is no conclusive evidence on the benefits or harms of omega-6 fat intake on heart and circulatory diseases or on other health outcomes.”
Thus, recent research supports Harris’ claim, and other scientists now believe that omega-6 fatty acids do not increase inflammation. While they agree that people need to maintain a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 in their diet to avoid the risk of disease, they believe that inflammation is a very complex process, and it affects each person differently. They would like to examine different factors involved in inflammation before they paint omega-6 as the sole reason for systemic inflammation in the body.
What Do You Think?
Share your thoughts on this topic in the forum below.
Vote “YES” if you think omega-6 is anti-inflammatory or “NO” if you think it is inflammatory.