(Updated in February 2023 to reflect the latest research on omega 6 fatty acids)
Is Omega 6 Healthy or Should I Avoid it?
Each year, more studies come out that deepen our understanding of omega fatty acids and sea buckthorn oil. The mainstream understanding of fatty acids is constantly changing and what becomes popular belief is not always the truth. Today we are going to focus on omega 6- probably one of the most misunderstood fatty acids.
Myth- Omega 6 Should be Avoided
For many years the health benefits of Omega 6 faced scrutiny, but did it deserve the skepticism? One reason for the concern regarding omega 6 is that it’s commonly found in highly processed foods. Americans have a higher chance of eating processed foods, and the trouble with fatty acids comes into play when our diet is off-balance. While it’s true that eating a diet of processed foods can mean an unbalanced amount of omega 6, there’s more to the story when it comes to this fatty acid.
What is Omega 6 and its Role in Human Health?
Omega 6 plays a part in everything from skin, hair, and bone health to metabolism. There are a variety of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAS) found in nature. The type of omega 6 that you’re most likely to get from a dietary source is an 18-carbon fatty acid containing two double bonds, known as linoleic acid (LA). The human body doesn’t make its own LA, but as we have mentioned, it’s abundant in different food sources. After you eat LA, the body uses a process called desaturation to convert it into other forms of omega 6, like arachidonic acid or γ-linolenic acid.
Plant-Based Sources of Omega 6 and other Fatty Acids
Plant-based omega 6 like that found in sea buckthorn oil is only one part of a rich bounty of bioactive compounds that can support heart health. In short, plant based fatty acids often provide additional heart health benefits. Sea buckthorn oil has a ratio of nearly 1:1 omega 3 and 6- the perfect balance for humans.
American Heart Association’s Science Advisory on Dietary Omega 6
Previously, it was advised to reduce the amount of dietary omega 6 to help balance the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. The American Heart Association put together a team of independent researchers hoping to better understand the relationship between omega 6 fatty acids and the risk of cardiovascular disease, along with congenital heart defects. After two years, the advisory panel found eating omega 6 fatty acids were “not only safe but also beneficial for the heart and circulation”. (1) Despite the fact that this science advisory, backed by the American Heart Association, was published back in 2009, the misinformation about omega 6 fatty acids persists to this day.
Can Omega 6 cause Inflammation?
Remember how we mentioned that LA omega 6 can be converted to other versions of omega 6 in the body earlier in the post? The omega 6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid (AA) is related to the creation of certain proinflammatory molecules. Therefore, the assumption was that reducing the amount of dietary LA would lead to lower levels of AA, thus reducing the risk of heart disease.
Research shows that the fatty acid has even more health benefits than previously thought. The notion that a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids such as linoleic acid raises disease risk by promoting inflammationignores the factthat omega-6 fatty acids also promote anti-inflammatory compounds.
2019 Study on Omega 6, Cardiovascular Disease, and Mortality
Another review from the American Heart Association looked at the connection between tissue levels of LA omega 6, AA omega 6, and their relation to heart disease. According to the findings, “higher levels of LA were significantly asscociated with lower risks of CVD, cardiovascular mortality, and ischemic stroke.”(2) Overall, the results once again showed that LA played a positive role when it came to cardiovascular disease prevention.
Omega 6 in Sea Buckthorn Oil
LA omega 6 is a major component of sea buckthorn seed oil but is also found in sea buckthorn berry oil. Interestingly, sea buckthorn oil is the only found in nature that contains a perfect 1:1 ratio of omega 3 to omega 6.
Animal Study on Omega 6 from Sea Buckthorn and Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is when a buildup of cholesterol other, waxy, fatty substances build up within the artery walls in the heart. An animal study treated rabbits with atherosclerosis with 1 ml of sea buckthorn seed oil. The study revealed that the rabbits that were given sea buckthorn showed a drastically reduced amount of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol. Researchers thought that the results were primarily due to LA omega 6.
Omega 6 from Sea Buckthorn and Metabolic Profiles in Overweight Women
A human based study looking at the effect of sea buckthorn and the health of overweight women reflected similar data to the rabbit study in terms of the lowering of LDL cholesterol.
However, the researchers here suggested that these benefits were not only due to the LA omega 6 from sea buckthorn oil, but also because of the natural combination of ALA omega 3, the omega 7 or palmitoleic acid and plant sterols found in sea buckthorn oil.
γ-Linolenic Acid’s (GLA) Heart Health Benefits
As we mentioned earlier, LA omega 6 can be changed into other kinds of omega 6 with the body after being eaten. γ-Linolenic acid also known as GLA has been shown to have many benefits for the body including the prevention of heart disease (5) and improving blood circulation. It’s also thought that GLA’s anti-inflammatory properties could have heart health benefits.
Research Shows that Omega 6 Heart Health Benefits
When it comes to science behind fatty acids and the other nutrients found in our food, our understanding grows every year as new studies come out. Avoiding highly processed foods is a good way to support your heart health, along with easy weekly exercise to get your heart pumping. The research from trusted sources like the American Heart Association and other researchers seems to show again and again that omega 6 fatty acids do have heart health benefits. According to the latest research, super-food sources like sea buckthorn oil can help provide heart healthy benefits from omega 6, along with other omegas and bioactive nutrients.
Harris, W. S., Mozaffarian, D., Rimm, E., Kris-Etherton, P., Rudel, L. L., Appel, L. J., Engler, M. M., Engler, M. B., & Sacks, F. (2009). Omega-6 fatty acids and risk for cardiovascular disease: a science advisory from the American Heart Association Nutrition Subcommittee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism; Council on Cardiovascular Nursing; and Council on Epidemiology and Prevention.Circulation,119(6), 902–907. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.191627
Marklund, M., Wu, J. H. Y., Imamura, F., Del Gobbo, L. C., Fretts, A., de Goede, J., Shi, P., Tintle, N., Wennberg, M., Aslibekyan, S., Chen, T. A., de Oliveira Otto, M. C., Hirakawa, Y., Eriksen, H. H., Kröger, J., Laguzzi, F., Lankinen, M., Murphy, R. A., Prem, K., Samieri, C., … Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) Fatty Acids and Outcomes Research Consortium (FORCE) (2019). Biomarkers of Dietary Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Incident Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality.Circulation,139(21), 2422–2436. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.038908
Basu M, Prasad R, Jayamurthy P, Pal K, Arumughan C, Sawhney RC. Anti-atherogenic effects of seabuckthorn (Hippophaea rhamnoides) seed oil. Phytomedicine. 2007;14(11):770–7.
Larmo PS, Kangas AJ, Soininen P, Lehtonen HM, Suomela JP, Yang B, et al. Effects of sea buckthorn and bilberry on serum metabolites differ according to baseline metabolic profiles in overweight women: a randomized crossover trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;98(4):941–51.
Knowles J, Watkinson C. Extraction of omega-6 fatty acids from speciality seeds. Lipid Technol. 2014;26(5):107–10.
Johnson, Melissa and Chastity Bradford. “Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9 Fatty Acids: Implications for Cardiovascular and Other Diseases.” Glycomics & Lipidomics, 2014,omicsonline.org/open-access/omega-omega-and-omega-fatty-acids-implications-for-cardiovascular-and-other-diseases-2153-0637.1000123.pdf.
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