What are omega-6 fatty acids? Can eating omega-6 fatty acids cause heart disease?

Answer From Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D.

Omega-6 fatty acids are a type of fat called polyunsaturated fat. Omega-6 fatty acids are in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. They're good to eat in small amounts in place of the fats that are solid at room temperature, call saturated fats. Omega-6 fatty acids can be good for the heart and seem to protect against heart disease.

The body needs fatty acids, called essential fatty acids. It can make most of the fatty acids it needs. But the body can't make linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid that includes omega-6 fatty acids. A healthy diet is the body's main source of omega-6 fatty acids.

Fatty acids have different effects on the body. Some are believed to cause swelling and irritation, called inflammation. But others seem to fight swelling and irritation, called anti-inflammatory. Studies have not shown an increased risk of heart disease linked to omega-6 fatty acids. In fact, research findings suggest that omega-6 fatty acids might reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke.

Until more is known, you can help keep your heart healthy by limiting saturated fats in your diet. Choose plant-based oils such as flaxseed oil or canola oil. One way to increase the amount of omega-6s in your diet is to use olive oil instead of butter when cooking. Or choose Brazil nuts or walnuts as snacks. They're also rich in omega-6 fatty acids.


Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D.

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June 13, 2023 See more Expert Answers

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