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Expert Panel: Omega-6 Won't Hurt Heart

American Heart Association Panel Finds No Evidence That Omega-6 Fatty Acids Raise Heart Risk
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 26, 2009 -- The American Heart Association (AHA) has come to the defense of omega-6 fatty acids, the fats found in many grains and most vegetable oils that some have linked to heart disease.

In a scientific advisory released today, an AHA panel noted that there is little credible evidence that omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation and increase cardiovascular risk.

The experts concluded that reducing omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) from their current levels would be more likely to increase the typical American's risk for heart disease than decrease it.

"Our goal was simply to let Americans know that foods containing omega-6 fatty acids can be part of a healthy diet, and can even help improve your cardiovascular risk profile," researcher and panel chairman William S. Harris, PhD, notes in a news release.

Good Fat, Bad Fat?

Harris tells WebMD that the advisory was issued to clear up confusion about omega-6, which has been cast as a dietary villain by some in the nutrition community.

Barry Sears, PhD, who created the Zone Diet, is the most well-known proponent of the idea that dietary omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation and heart disease.

In his latest book, Sears claims that heart disease and many other chronic diseases can largely be blamed on the fact that the Western diet contains too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3, the fat found primarily in salmon and other fatty fish.

He argues that high-carbohydrate diets that contain high levels of omega-6-rich grains and vegetable oils promote chronic disease by producing the inflammatory arachidonic acid (AA).

But Harris says there is no proof that omega-6 from vegetable sources promotes inflammation and plenty of evidence that eating grains and vegetable oils protects the heart.

The AHA panel reviewed the scientific evidence examining the impact of omega-6 PUFAs on the risk of heart and cardiovascular disease.

Their analysis of more than two dozen studies reveals that:

  • People in observational studies who ate the most omega-6 fatty acids typically had lower rates of heart disease than people who ate the least. 
  • Patients with heart disease tended to have lower levels of omega-6 in their blood than people without the disease. 
  • People in controlled trials who ate diets high in omega-6 were less likely to develop heart disease than those who ate diets that were low in omega-6.

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