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All Omega Fatty Acids Are Not Created Equal

Posted Feb 11 2013 3:40am
Going shopping for food can be pretty difficult these days what with all the advertising proclaiming this & that. It's even worse when it comes to dietary supplements because there's essentially no 3rd party oversight.  The manufacturers can essentially market whatever they want w/o proof of effectiveness and/or safety.  It's become a Whack-A-Mole game whereby they only need to change something if caught or someone complains enough.

As an example, there's plenty of data looking at the benefits of fish (oil) .  Granted, most of it is observational, but hey, that's better than nothing.  In marketing parlance, fish oil is also referred to as omega 3, a name & descriptor of its polyunsaturated biochemical nature.  As it turns out, there are also omega 6's & 9's, both polyunsaturated fats, too.  And as we all know, polyunsaturated fats are better for us than saturated ones, right?  That's why product labels mention omega 3 content plus "other" omega oils.  In fact, one brand touts its "balanced blend of omega 3-6-9 fatty acids" as if that alone makes their product better than every one else's.

It turns out that most of us get plenty of omega 6's & omega 9's in our Westernized & Americanized diet.  It's the omega 3's that we're lacking.  But just because omega 6 & 9 are polyunsaturated, shouldn't they be good for us?  Well, the devil is in the details.

In a randomized controlled trial published last week in the British Medical Journal , substitution of omega 6 linoleic acid for saturated fats did nothing to lower heart disease rates.  If anything, this most abundant polyunsaturated fat increased all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease & cardiovascular disease.

In the study, 458 men 30-59yo who'd suffered a cardiac event were randomized in a single blind, parallel group controlled trial in which half were given omega 6 linoleic acid eg safflower oil & safflower derived margarine, to substitute for typical dietary saturated fats, eg animal fats, common margarines & shortening.  Those randomized to control received no specific instruction or food.  All were followed for up to 5yrs.  Yet, those randomized to omega 6 linoleic acid had a 62% greater risk of all-cause mortality, 70% greater risk of cardiovascular disease & 74% greater risk of coronary heart disease.  
Obviously this study needs to be replicated in a larger trial with participants w/o known heart disease to represent the greater population as a whole.  But for now, it's pretty clear that not all omega fatty acids are created equal.  Omega 3 fish oil is much safer than omega 6 linoleic acid, at least if you've recently had a coronary event.

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