A recent study found a diet higher omega-6 fatty acids is linked to a smaller risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and premature death—but the fat hasn't always received glowing recommendations. Here, we break it down for you.

By Grace Elkus
March 19, 2018

You've probably heard all about omega-3 fatty acids. Foods such as salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds, and canola oil are rich in the stuff, and omega-3s are touted for their myriad health benefits, including decreasing your risk of heart disease, relieving depression, and improving sleep. But what about their far-less-talked-about cousin, the omega-6?

A recent study conducted by the University of Eastern Finland and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a diet higher in linoleic acid (the most common polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid) is linked to a smaller risk of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. Omega-6 fatty acids are most commonly found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.

“We discovered that the higher the blood linoleic acid level, the smaller the risk of premature death,” Jyrki Virtanen, adjunct professor from the University of Eastern Finland, said in a statement.

The study began more than 30 years ago, when the researchers determined the blood fatty acid levels of 2,480 men between the ages of 42 and 60. Over the course of an average of 22 years, 1,143 men died from disease-related causes.

After the participants were divided into five groups based on their blood linoleic acid level, the researchers determined the risk of premature death was 43 percent lower in the group with the highest linoleic acid level when compared to the group with the lowest linoleic acid level. Similar discoveries were made in regards to death due to cardiovascular diseases. The results support a 2016 study that found omega-6 fatty acids may lower death rates in older men. 

So why aren't omega-6 fats recommended as enthusiastically as omega-3's? It’s been speculated that, when converted into arachidonic acid in your body, they may increase the risk of chronic diseases by promoting inflammation and blood clotting. However, omega-6 fatty acids can also increase the production of anti-inflammatory compounds.

Until more has been scientifically proven, it's best to consume omega-6 fatty acids in moderation, and use them, along with omega-3 fatty acids, to replace saturated fats and transfats (such as meat, butter, and cheese) in your diet.