Do Omega 6 Fats Cause Inflammation?

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A plastic bottle of sunflower oil beside an empty pan on a gas stove

You may have heard that foods high in omega 6 fats (soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower seed oil, vegetable oil) can cause inflammation in the body. Since inflammation is the root cause of most chronic illnesses including heart disease this would not be good. So, where is this theory coming from that omega 6 fatty acids cause inflammation? One reason for this claim is that omega 6 fats such as linoleic acid can be converted to arachidonic acid in the body. Arachidonic acid can be converted to prostaglandins which can set off an inflammatory response. BUT WAIT – in reality, hardly any linoleic acid gets converted to arachidonic acid.

According to Dr. Frank Sacks, professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard TH Chang School of Public Health, “Although the pathway is there, it’s not active unless there is a deficiency of omega 6 fats. When you eat omega 6 fats, you’ll see an increase in linoleic acid, but you will not see an increase in arachidonic acid or prostaglandins.”

Many studies show that consuming foods containing omega 6 fat, especially when they replace saturated fat, lowers the risk of heart disease. “There is no good clinical research that shows adverse effects for omega 6 fats. In fact, studies actually show beneficial effects.” Sacks says.

This points to something we teach intro nutrition students. Just because there is a pathway for something to happen in the body – linoleic acid to arachidonic acid to prostaglandins – does not mean it will happen. Logic without proof is not a reason to change dietary recommendations. 

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