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Omega-3 vs Omega-6

by Vin Kutty on October 22, 2010

Lyon Diet Heart Study

Why was this 4-year study suddenly paused after just 1 year?

French scientists gathered 600 people who’d had heart attacks.

Half of them were put on a ‘Mediterranean Diet’ low in Omega-6 and high in Omega-3. (Experimental Group)

And the other half was put on a ‘prudent’ diet with no dietary advice from the scientists. (Control Group)

What they found out was remarkable:

  • There was NO DIFFERENCE in cholesterol levels between groups
  • There was a 70% reduction in death in the Experimental Group (Low Omega-6 + High Omega-3)
  • Cardiovascular deaths were decreased by 76% in the Experimental Group
  • Stroke, pulmonary embolism and angina were also lower in the Experimental group

The study produced such stark differences in results that the scientists felt it was unfair to those in the Control Group! Here is a quote from the American Heart Association about the incident:

Lyon Diet Study

“An intermediate analysis was performed after a minimum follow-up of one year for each patient. The study was stopped at that point because of significant beneficial effects noted in the original group. All patients were invited to the research unit for a final exam, where they were informed of the results.”

Why was there a reduction in deaths even though the cholesterol was the same?

  1. The Experimental Group ate 3x as much Omega-3
  2. The Experimental Group ate 32% less Omega-6 than Control Group
  3. The Control Group ate a LOT MORE Omega-6
    • Experimental Group ate a 4:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3
    • The Control Group ate 20:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 (similar to the typical American diet)

When you hear experts in the media discuss Mediterranean diet, they talk about eating fish, vegetables and olive oil. But no one talks about the LOW Omega-6 levels in this diet!

Several other studies (MRFIT and WHI in particular) have shown that reducing total fat intakes does not reduce cardiovascular mortality. Same goes for reducing saturated fats.

What makes the Lyon Diet study so special is that it is the first major study to REDUCE Omega-6 in the diet while increasing Omega-3.

It’s time to take our eyes off shiny, easily-demonized cholesterol.

And it’s time to focus on two things:

  1. Decreasing Omega-6 consumption
  2. Increasing Omega-3 consumption

You already know how to increase Omega-3 – eat fish, fish oil supplements and green leafy vegetables.

But how do you reduce Omega-6 consumption?

  1. Eliminate corn oil, vegetable oils (soy) and sunflower oils completely for cooking purposes – switch to olive, coconut or butter. Even lard (gasp!) is better than corn oil.
  2. Eliminate any processed and fast-foods that contain corn oil or vegetable oils – unfortunately, this includes most fast-food places and most things sold in boxes at the grocery store

Doing these two things may be the most important thing you do. Not just for heart disease – breast health too – a new study with over 72,000 women found that it’s not HOW MUCH but the RATIO of Omega-6 to Omega-3 that makes a difference.

Dr. Artemis Simopoulos wrote a clear and easily understood paper on this subject. You owe it to yourself to read it:
The Importance of the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio in Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Diseases
ARTEMIS P. SIMOPOULOS The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, DC

Here is a table taken from that paper:

Ethnic Differences in
Omega-3, Omega-6 and Heart Disease

(Fatty Acid Concentrations in Thrombocyte Phospholipids and Percentage of All Deaths from Cardiovascular Disease)

US Japan Eskimo
EPA Omega-3 in Blood 0.5 1.6 8
Ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 50 12 1
Death Rate from Heart Disease 45 12 7

Omega-3 and Omega-6 ratio in Lyon Diet Study
Here is a link to the published Lyon Diet Study:

Mediterranean Diet, Traditional Risk Factors, and the Rate of Cardiovascular Complications After Myocardial Infarction: Final Report of the Lyon Diet Heart Study

Digressing a tiny little bit here…another European Study called EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) had over 200,000 people keep track of what they ate for 4 years.

  • Those who ate the most omega-6 fatty acids raised the risk of ulcerative colitis by 149%
  • And those who ate the most omega-3, reduced the risk of ulcerative colitis by 36% to 77%

Bottom-line:

Taking fish oil supplements helps right your Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio. But fish oil pills alone will not fix the problem. You will have to drastically cut back on Omega-6 fats from seed oils like corn oil and vegetable (soy) oil.

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this blog do not constitute medical advice. This is merely an open discussion of the science behind EPA & DHA Omega-3 and Fish Oil. Please consult your physician for medical advice.

Omega-3 expert and Author Vin Kutty About the Author: Vin Kutty is OmegaVia’s Scientific Advisor and Chief Blogger. He is a nutritionist, author, and Omega-3 expert with over 20 years of experience. Email him.


Omega 3 vs Omega 6

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bill April 25, 2011 at 8:24 pm

intresting read. more info on omega6 can be found at http://www.omega6.net

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