New research suggests that there is an increase in the risk of obesity as the level of omega-6 fatty acids and the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio increase in the diet.
There is ample evidence from previous studies reflected in a new editorial, published in the journal Open Heart, that high levels of omega-6 can lead to increased fat tissue and chronic inflammation, which both play a role in obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are types of essential fatty acids, meaning that we cannot make them on our own and have to obtain them from our diet.
In the past three decades, total fat and saturated fat intake as a percentage of total calories has continuously decreased in our modern diets and we consume few sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as the fat of cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and bluefish.
As a result of this, there was a large increase in the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio from about 1:1 during evolution to 16:1 today, or even higher.
This change in the composition of fatty acids parallels, alongside high sugar consumptio, a significant increase in the prevalence of obesity.
While we’re learning that saturated fat by itself is not harmful, but rather beneficial, there is concern that the naturally present high omega-6 profile of some cooking fats and foods high in saturated fat could promote imbalances in the omega-6 to omega-3 intake.
For example, relative to the fatty acid breakdown of different fats, vegetable oils like soybean oil, and to a lesser extent, lard, have a considerable amount of omega-6.
It has been argued by Dr. Artemis Simopoulos, the study’s lead author from the Centre for Genetics, Nutrito, and Health in Washingto, DC, that for dealing with an inflammatory condition like obesity, omega-6 needs to be reduced.
Data collected by Simopoulos and co-author Dr James Di Nicolantonio show that a big dietary driver of inflammation is a high omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids ratio, which elicits diverse effects on body fat gain.
Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to a decrease in the development of fatty tissue and weight loss, while high concentrations of omega-6 have been associated with an increased risk of weight gain.
Hormones derived from the two classes of essential fatty acids also have opposite effects. Those from omega-6 fatty acids tend to increase inflammation, while those from omega-3 fatty acids decrease those functions.
The consensus is that both families of hormones must be in balance to maintain optimal health, because there are some omega-6 benefits. It is thought that foods with omega-6 may ease insulin resistance for people with diabetes.
This suggests that bringing the fats into proper proportio, with an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio which is less than about 5:1, and ideally as close to 1:1 as possible, may help relieve conditions and their comorbidities that stem from a dysregulation of fat metabolism and/or inflammation in the body.
To that end, the first step is to cut down on omega-6 levels by reducing consumption of processed and polyunsaturated vegetable oils, such as corn, sunflower, safflower, soy, and cottonseed oil, and the second is to supplement with omega-3 fats by taking eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are found in fish oils.
Vegetarian sources, such as walnuts and flaxseeds, are good too as they contain a precursor omega-3, known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), that the body eventually converts to EPA and DHA.

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