A new review suggests that omega-3 fatty acids taken in excess could have unintended health consequences in certain situations, and that dietary standards based on the best available evidence need to be established. “What looked like a slam dunk a few years ago may not be as clear cut as we thought,” said Norman Hord, associate professor in Oregon State University (OSU’s) College of Public Health and Human Sciences and a coauthor on the paper, according to an October 28, 2013 news release, Excess omega-3 fatty acids could lead to negative health effects.
“We are seeing the potential for negative effects at really high levels of omega-3 fatty acid consumption. Because we lack valid biomarkers for exposure and knowledge of who might be at risk if consuming excessive amounts, it isn’t possible to determine an upper limit at this time.”
Previous research led by Michigan State University’s Jenifer Fenton and her collaborators found that feeding mice large amounts of dietary omega-3 fatty acids led to increased risk of colitis and immune alteration. Those results were published in Cancer Research in 2010. As a follow-up, in the current issue of the journal Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes & Essential Fatty Acids, Fenton and her co-authors, including Hord, reviewed the literature and discuss the potential adverse health outcomes that could result from excess consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. You also may wish to check out the October 28, 2013 Science Codex article, “Excess omega-3 fatty acids could lead to negative health effects.”
Studies have shown that omega-3s, also known as long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), are associated with lower risk of sudden cardiac death and other cardiovascular disease outcomes
“We were inspired to review the literature based on our findings after recent publications showed increased risk of advanced prostate cancer and atrial fibrillation in those with high blood levels of LCPUFAs,” Fenton said in the news release. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, which is one of the reasons they can be beneficial to heart health and inflammatory issues. However, the researchers said excess amounts of omega-3 fatty acids can alter immune function sometimes in ways that may lead to a dysfunctional immune response to a viral or bacterial infection.
“The dysfunctional immune response to excessive omega-3 fatty acid consumption can affect the body’s ability to fight microbial pathogens, like bacteria,” Hord said in the news release
Generally, the researchers point out that the amounts of fish oil used in most studies are typically above what one could consume from foods or usual dosage of a dietary supplement. However, an increasing amount of products, such as eggs, bread, butters, oils and orange juice, are being “fortified” with omega-3s. Hord said, according to the news release, that this fortified food, coupled with fish oil supplement use, increases the potential for consuming these high levels
“Overall, we support the dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association to eat fish, particularly fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, lake trout or sardines, at least two times a week, and for those at risk of coronary artery disease to talk to their doctor about supplements,” he said in the news release. “Our main concern here is the hyper-supplemented individual, who may be taking high-dose omega-3 supplements and eating four to five omega-3-enriched foods per day,” Hord added in the news release. “This could potentially get someone to an excessive amount. As our paper indicates, there may be subgroups of those who may be at risk from consuming excess amounts of these fatty acids.”
Hord said there are no evidence-based standards for omega-3 intake and no way to tell who might be at health risk if they consume too high a level of these fatty acids
“We’re not against using fish oil supplements appropriately, but there is a potential for risk,” Hord said in the news release. “As is all true with any nutrient, taking too much can have negative effects. We need to establish clear biomarkers through clinical trials. This is necessary in order for us to know who is eating adequate amounts of these nutrients and who may be deficient or eating too much. “Until we establish valid biomarkers of omega-3 exposure, making good evidence-based dietary recommendations across potential dietary exposure ranges will not be possible.”
Sanjoy Ghosh from University of BC-Okanagan, Canada and Eric Gurzell from Michigan State University also contributed to this study, which was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Diabetes Association. You also may wish to check out the YouTube video on a similar subject of what the ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s fatty acids might be balanced. See, the YouTube video here which discusses flax seed meal as a good source of omega 3 fatty acids and certain B vitamins (and is unrelated to the new study).
Can science tell consumers what the balance or ratio that’s healthiest should be of the various oils such as omega 3, 6, 7, and 9? Omega-3 fatty acids versus omega-6 fatty acids (oils)
Do most Sacramentans of all ages know that omega-3-fatty acids reduce the risk of getting macular degeneration? The diet recommended at the Eye Digest site contains two types of fat (saturated and unsaturated).
Bad for the eyes and gall bladder are trans fats which are made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil–a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats. What kind of fats or oils are used in Sacramento school lunch rooms? Also see the site, “Omega-7 Fatty Acids And Heart Health – ArcaMax Publishing.” Consumers want to know how to balance the ratio of omega 3, 6, 7, and 9 fatty acids for optimal wellbeing.
Linolenic acid (omega 3 fatty acids)
Linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid), which is a type of polyunsaturated fat found primarily in fish, krill, and flaxseed oil, is associated with lessening of macular degeneration risk, but only among individuals with lower intake of linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid). Therefore, intake of food sources with high linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid) and low linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid), as is found in Canola oil may help in macular degeneration.
These nutrients help to protect the lens of the eye from cataract formation. When you add vitamin C to the cysteine, sulfur, and lecithin in the eggs from juice, such as orange juice mixed with carrot juice or kiwi fruit, the phytonutrients such as the carotenoids and zeaxanthin in the eggs and the mixture of fruit and vegetable juice contain key antioxidants that help to eliminate free radicals that can cause eye damage.
Sacramento consumers need to know how too much omega 6 fatty acids (oils) and too little omega 3 fatty acids, or an imbalance of omega 6, 3, and 9 fatty acids possibly may affect their blood. An imbalance of oils/fats in your body can hurt you, according to the article, “Planning Primary Prevention of Coronary Disease,” by Bill Landis, PhD. The article is published in the Current Atherosclerosis Reports 2009, 11:272-280. (Current Medicine Group LLC.)
Did you know that peanuts contain 4,000 milligrams of omega-6 in each 28 gram, one ounce serving of peanuts, and 1 milligram of omega-3? Check out one of the sources of this information on the link, Dr. Bill Lands, “1 of 4 on Cardiovascular Disease: Omega-6 displaces Omega-3.”
In plain language, two general food imbalances cause major chronic diseases, according to that article. The first imbalance is between between rates of intake and expenditure of food energy. Basically, you start with a network of appetitive neurtransmitters. These transmitters regulate your sense of hunger and satiety. That’s what causes your individual rate of food energy intake. People differ according to genes with varying rates of food energy intake.
Do you know why you get hungry? Your appetite responds to the protein, carb, or fat content of food differently in different people, based on their genes
Everyone converts food to acetyl coenzyme A (also called acetyl-CoA). Then, if you exercise long enough with any given activity, the acetyl-CoA is converted to carbon dioxide (CO2. (That’s why you need a year or two of chemistry before you study to be a registered dietition, and it helps when studying nutrition in general, too.)
Guess what happens when you eat a huge meal? You take in a lot more food than you can expend by energy in the next hour. The next thing you know is that excess acetyl-CoA that occurs as the fat, sugar, and amino acids in your meal is metabolized, becomes fatty acids and triglycerides. Got high triglycerides you want to lower? That’s the fats in your blood. Those triglycerides enter your blood stream from that huge meal. And what do they enter your blood stream as? The answer is they enter as very low density lipoproteins (VLDL). That’s not what you want an excess of in your blood.
Next what happens is all that excess fats/oils, sugars, and amino acids are now turned into lipoproteins (fatty proteins) and are steadily hydrolyzed in your blood. These lipoproteins soon form free fatty acids (FFAs). And you don’t what too much fatty acids in your blood because they irritate your blood vessels.
What happens when your blood vessels are irritated by an imbalance in fats/oils is that you end up with inflammatory oxidant stress
That’s an inflammation, similar to an infection. Why would you want your blood vessels to be inflamed? As a result of this inflammatory stress on your blood vessels, you now get elevated C-reactive protein levels. That’s sometimes abbreviated as CRP on your test standing for a C-reactive protein blood test.
Next, what happens when your blood vessels are inflamed is that you may come down with insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, or metabolic syndrome ( a series of symptoms of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, and too much insulin pouring into your bloodstream as well as other symptoms that also may include obesity or a wide waist). You may begin to look apple shaped or if not, your weight gain would in some people tend to be around your abdomen rather than on your hips and thighs.
Researchers still need to continue studying whether or not FFA-induced biomarkers really cause cardiovascular disease and whether or not lowering those levels of FFAs (free fatty acids) will or will not lower heart disease (CVD), heart attacks or other CVD events. So the research goes in. In the meantime, what you can do from a nutrition point of view is balance your oils/fats with the proper amounts of omega 3 fatty acids (DHA/EPA, usually more DHA than EPA), omega 9 (as in avocados and some nuts, and a little omega 6 (not excess omega 6 oils) as in extra virgin olive oil. That’s like a handful not a can full of nuts, seeds, and olives, for example.
How is LDL (low-density lipoprotein) formed?
LDL cholesterol is formed when the VLDL circulating in your blood releases large amounts of free fatty acids. Basically you want lower LDL and higher HDL when you look at your blood tests for cholesterol readings. If you’re wondering what the word postprandial means when you see that word, it means after a meal. So you want to eat small portions rather than huge meals, even if you have to eat several small meals a day. When you eat is more important sometimes than what you eat. So don’t eat late at night or eat a fatty meal just before going to bed. Also see my November 21, 2010 ventwing.com article, “Are excessive amounts of omega 6 fatty acids ruining your health?”
Researchers in nutrition usually tell you to look at proportions of n-3 and n-6 acids. These numbers refer to the balance of omega 3 fatty acids to omega 6 fatty acids. You want to balance your oils/fats so that your platelets and blood vessels aren’t full of plaque that are amplified by very excessive amounts of omega 6 fatty acids in some oils. Too much omega 6 oils and not enough omega 3 fatty acids in other oils may create excessive “eicosanoid hormone actions.” That’s what scientists are studying.
For example, see, “Case Study: 30-Days of high Omega-6 Diet — Stiffens Arteries and Increases Belly Fat.” As registered dietitian, Evelyn Tribole (M.S. R.D.) notes, ” Oprah magazine paid for the study and article but declined to publish the results,” according to that article. In that July 25, 2010 article, a daring journalist ate a high omega–6 diet for 30–days (think Super-Size Me), which resulted in stiffer arteries.
Your goal is to stay away from inflammatory responses after a meal. So what will lower the chances of inflammation? Dietary intervention is one answer. Scientists also study other biomarkers. As you read the article, “Planning Primary Prevention of Coronary Disease,” you’ll get a handle on the information about why excess omega 6 fatty acids (oils) can contribute to the type of inflammation that researchers continue to study. And you want to balance your types of oils/fats.
According to that article, “Planning Primary Prevention of Coronary Disease,” prevention of atherosclerosis and caradiovascular disease (CVD) is what the research is about, especially when it comes to preventing the $400 billion losses from these diseases. Can nutrition changes prevent these diseases and be a primary way to help instead of just treating the symptoms and risk factors with commercial drugs? Can one important answer lie in changing your oil
Too many omega 6 fatty acids in your diet from a variety of foods and condiments?
Is there excess omega 6 fatty acids in peanut butter — if you eat too many peanut butter sandwiches or feed kids too many peanut butter and jelly lunches? What about foods with excess omega 6 fats/oils from foods served in schools or in the military or institutional settings? Interestingly, email from an intelligent, informed reader mentions that very few people, even health experts for that matter, are even aware that the omega-6 fatty acid problem exists.
With a few notable exceptions, it seems as though most of those aware of the consequences of excessive omega-6 intake do not appreciate the magnitude of the problem. In email one reader sent me, that reader has been studying nutritional issues and controversies for more than three decades.
More recently that reader has been writing letters to journalists, scientists, and politicians encouraging them to learn about added sugars and industrial seed oils, the two components in the modern food supply responsible for many of The Modern Nutritional Diseases. The important point is how much omega 6 fatty acids most people in the USA are eating in processed foods or even in peanuts eaten in large quantities? Are the oils people get in food balanced with the correct ratio of omega 3 and omega 9 from other foods, whether they’re from avocados, krill or cod liver oil, vegan algae sources of omega 3, or walnuts?
The pre-industrial revolution amount of omega-6 fats people ate were lower
If omega-6 intake were reduced to pre-industrial revolution intake, the November 21, 2010 email received from a reader noted that consumers might suspect there would be a massive decrease in the incidence of chronic inflammatory diseases of all sorts. Moreover, replacing omega-6 with healthy sources of saturated fat in conjunction reduced fructose intake would potentially eradicate chronic inflammatory disease altogether.
An interesting example of a culture consuming minimal omega-6 and fructose is the Kitavans, (See the Kitava Study) the email from the aware reader noted. Eighty percent of the adult population are daily smokers yet there are no strokes and no heart attacks. How could that be? The saturated-fats-are-bad dogma that you may read in a variety of popular media is of particular concern to some consumers perhaps because of the harm caused by demonizing them.
When are saturated fats beneficial?
Are saturated fats beneficial if consumed in context of adequate supportive nutrition? Too often solid fats are used in some pleasure or comfort foods. Food surveys employed in epidemiology have never obtained sufficient data to distinguish the effects of natural saturated fats from omega-6 trans fats. Yet they are the basis for the current public health recommendation to limit saturated fat intake.
Among those who do appreciate the seriousness of the omega-6 problem are Chris Kresser  and Stephen Guyenet . Their articles about omega-6 are about as good as it gets. Also Evelyn Tribole has a website dedicated to the omega-6 problem .
How hazardous to your health is excess omega 6 fatty acids? What can excess omega 6 do to your immune system? Are you eating lots of peanut butter, for example, because you read it might control your blood glucose levels along with cinnamon, but now find you have worsened gum disease from eating excess omega 6? Perhaps you need to balance omega 6 with omega 3 and omega 9 in portions that are best tailored to your own health needs?
How little omega 6 fatty acids are needed?
You might check out some of the books by John Yudkin, T.L. Cleave, and others about how much or little omega-6 seed oils you need to keep that balance. After all, even olive oil touted as healthy has omega 6 fatty acids. Then ask yourself why cultures consuming lots of fresh pressed, cold pressed, expeller pressed extra virgin olive oil seem to be healthy. What else are they eating to keep their diet in balance? Perhaps lots of omega 3 fatty acids and omega 9 fatty acids?
The edible oils industry must have a lot of commercial, academic, and political clout because there seems to be somewhat of a general, popular consumer magazine media blackout now and then regarding the harmful effects of excessive omega-6 consumption. For example, see, “Case Study: 30-Days of high Omega-6 Diet — Stiffens Arteries and Increases Belly Fat.”
As registered dietitian, Evelyn Tribole (M.S. R.D.) notes, “Oprah magazine paid for the study and article but declined to publish the results,” according to that article. In that July 25, 2010 article, a daring journalist ate a high omega–6 diet for 30–days (think Super-Size Me), which resulted in stiffer arteries.
In the article, the woman eating a 30-day diet including a specific amount of omega 6 fatty acids didn’t have any changes in her weight. But the changes occurred in the fatty acid composition of her bloodstream, body fat, arterial function, and body mass composition, according to that article. Basically, just by increasing omega 6 fatty acids and decreasing omega 3 fatty acid, the changes took place. Check out that article on how too much omega 6 fatty acids increases belly fat and stiffens arteries.
Now check out Consumer Reports on Health. Did you ever wonder why there’s so few mentions of omega 6 fatty acids? Although there are a number of articles about the therapeutic benefits of omega-3s, where’s the mention of omega-6? This is strange because as early as 1999 National Institutes of Health scientists were recommending reduced intake of omega-6s to increase the effectiveness of omega-3s.
Excess consumption of omega 6 cooking or salad dressing oils?
You need to reduce excess consumption of omega 6 polyunstaturated fatty acids (also called PUFAs). For optimal brain function, omega 3 fatty acids are increased in the diet of children and adults. Did you notice recently that DHA has been added to baby food to increase more omega 3 fatty acids even in the diets of infants of a specific age who are eating their first solid foods?
You don’t want to end up with various oils competing with one another for certain enzymes. One type of oil can inhibit the conversion of enzymes. The problem is with the standard Western diet that contains too many dietary plant oils rich in omega 6 PUFAs, such as corn, safflower, and soybean oils. Again, balance is needed. But with all the food you eat in restaurants or fast food eateries and sometimes at home fried in vegetable oils with too high an omega 6 fatty acid content, that’s when the imbalance may happen.
Dietary intakes for omega 6 and 3 fatty acids
What you may need to do is check out the article, “Workshop on the Essentiality of and Recommended Dietary Intakes for Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids,” published in Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 18, No. 5, 487-489 (1999). More recently, in a BMJ article entitled Adherence to Mediterranean diet and risk of developing diabetes: prospective cohort study the authors wrote in the Conclusion, “Our prospective cohort study suggests that substantial protection against diabetes can be obtained with the traditional Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, vegetables, fruits, nuts, cereals, legumes, and fish but relatively low in meat and dairy products.”
Under the heading Diet and Disease the authors wrote, “Apart from olive oil, adherence to an overall Mediterranean-type food pattern is related to lower plasma concentrations of inflammatory markers and markers of endothelial dysfunction.” So, that may be part of the answer to why olive oil is helpful.
The Mediterranean diet does seem to reduce inflammatory markers
To explain why, in a paper, “Dietary Fat Quality and Coronary Heart Disease Prevention: A Unified Theory Based on Evolutionary, Historical, Global, and Modern Perspectives,” the authors note that “The only long-term trial that reduced n-6 LA intake to resemble a traditional Mediterranean diet (but still higher than preindustrial LA intake) reduced CHD events and mortality by 70%. Although this does not prove that LA intake has adverse consequences, it clearly indicates that high LA intake is not necessary for profound CHD risk reduction.”
So folks, thanks to a reader from the Nutrition Education Project, who sent me this material today, here utilized, with written permission, you also need to investigate the excess omega-6 hazard. Did you ever notice that it is now a century since omega 6 seed oils have been introduced into the Western world’s food supply? What were folks using for cooking oil one hundred years ago? The answer is whatever oils or fats were used in anyone’s specific ethnic group in the previous century.
Cookbooks from 1895 recommended different types of fats
Check out the American 1895 cookbooks–lots of cream, butter, and/or coconut oil. But you don’t want an excess of dairy either. With homogenization, the tiny molecules aren’t what you want to load up on. This was not so great 100 years ago for the lactose-intolerant or for those who had adverse reactions to any type of dairy products when bread was buttered instead of dipped in warmed olive oil and garlic as they did along the Adriatic and in some Mediterranean areas. Are you getting enough omega 3 fatty acids in this century as you balance your diet?
A century ago, for example, rendered chicken fat, butter, and cream, were commonly used among Central Europeans, lard among many different peoples in the new World and in many areas of Europe, beef suet/fat among others, coconut oil among people from more tropical areas, and olive oil in Mediterranean regions.
South Asians used sesame oil or clarified butter (ghee). The worse time for shortening in the USA ran from the 1920s to the 1950s when trans fats were sold in cans as solid white shortening. And people started frying potatoes, meats, and fish in trans fats, those partially hydrogenated fats. What should you do today? Get enough omega 3 fatty acids and remember, everything in balance.
For more information on oils, check out the articles, “Omega 6- Omega 3 Balance – Omega Optimize,” “The Healthy Skeptic: The top 3 dietary causes of obesity & diabetes,” and “Whole Health Source: Excess omega 6 fatty acids damages infants.”