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Beaumont Supports Advisory On Omega-6 Fats

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Like the workings of Wall Street or the mechanics of rocket science, the role of Omega-6 fatty acids in the diet hasn't been fully understood.

But the American Heart Association just declared Omega-6s - found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds - a beneficial part of a heart-healthy eating plan.

People really didn't understand the benefits of Omega-6s for years because it was believed some of these fats may promote inflammation and increase cardiovascular risk. As it turns out, some Omega-6s do promote inflammation but others give rise to anti-inflammatory molecules, according to the AHA.

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The AHA's new science advisory on Omega-6s appears in the Jan. 27 edition of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The advisory "sets the record straight with respect to cardioprotective (heart and blood vessel) benefits," according to a related editorial written by Peter McCullough, M.D., consultant cardiologist and chief, division of Nutrition and Preventive Medicine, Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, and Barry Franklin, Ph.D., director, Cardiac Rehabilitation and Exercise Laboratories at Beaumont. "By viewing fats as a macronutrient class, omega-6 ... occupy a favorable position on a continuum of fat intake in a diet formulated to prevent atherosclerosis and its consequences."

The AHA issued its advisory after analyzing a number of research clinical trials. Omega-6s and the more familiar Omega-3s (found in cold water fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel; flax seeds; walnuts; canola oil; and some fruits and vegetables) are called polyunsaturated fatty acids. They actually have health benefits when consumed in the recommended amounts, especially when they replace saturated fat or trans fat. They play a big role in heart and brain function and in normal growth and development. The body doesn't produce either of these fats, so people must get them from food - making them "essential fats" in our diet.

The AHA recommends that people get 5-10 percent of their daily calories from Omega-6s. Most Americans get enough of these oils in the foods they eat, according to the association. Recommended daily servings of Omega-6s depend on physical activity level, age and gender, and range from 12-22 grams.

Still up in the air is the ideal ratio of Omega-3s to Omega-6s in the diet. "Expert opinion has ranged widely," wrote the Beaumont heart experts.



The American Heart Association (AHA) made sweeping statements that are not supported by the research, while ignoring landmark studies, which don't support their views. Here's one example. Conspicuously absent from AHA's report were the findings of the famous study, which made the Mediterranean diet a household name---the Lyon Diet Heart study. This large intervention trial involved two groups of heart patients from France, who were fed either a Mediterranean diet (low in omega-6 polyunsaturated fat) or a diet advocated by the American Heart Association, with indiscriminate use of polyunsaturated fats. The group eating the Mediterranean diet had a striking 70% reduction in all causes of death, including cancer, compared to the group eating the "heart healthy diet". If you interviewed, Michel de Lorgeril, the lead investigator of that famous study, he would likely disagree with AHA's advisory. Why? Because his study was specifically designed to be low in omega-6 fat, to mirror the indigenous mediterranean diet of Crete Islanders, who have a low rate of heart disease. Just last month, de Legoril chastised researchers for ignoring the omega-6 factor, "...the epidemiologists does not capture one major lipid characteristic of the Mediterranean diet, which is actually low in omega-6". (Notably, the authors of AHA's advisory were mainly epidemiologists.) In 1999, there was enough scientific evidence to prompt scientists to recommend an upper limit for omega-6 fats, to no more than 6.7 grams per day [Simopoulos]. This ceiling is based on eating a maximum of 3% fat calories from omega-6 fat on a 2000 calorie diet. (Note, this is a similar level to the the Lyon Diet Heart study.) Now, ten years later, the American Heart Association is urging people to continue to eat more than double that amount. While I would not expect a heart scientist to be an expert on breast cancer, I would certainly hope that if heart experts are claiming that there is no harm from eating the current high levels of omega-6 fat, that they would use an inter-disciplinary approach to confirm their thinking. Sadly, that's not what happened. Large studies from the USA, France and Sweden indicate a compelling link between high intakes of omega-6 fat and the development of breast cancer [Tribole.] For example, in a case-control study on nearly 1700 women, researchers demonstrated that women with a genotype influencing the LOX enzyme, had a two-fold increase in breast cancer risk if they ate high levels of the omega-6 fat, linoleic acid, and amount of 17.4g/day [Wang]. Yet, this genotype had no influence on breast cancer risk, if these women ate a lower linoleic acid diet. Lastly, there is a curious association with Unilever, a large global margarine manufacturer. Three of the 12 scientists declared that they received either advisory or consulting fees from this food conglomerate. Keep in mind that margarines, salad dresings and spreads are among the highest sources of omega-6 fat in westernized countries. These are just a few examples of the problems with AHA's advisory (there are many more). I hope that for the sake of a balanced perspective and journalistic integrity, medical news media including Medscape, will investigate this issue---rather than blindly accept what the AHA proclaims--as there is alot more to this story.