US Obesity Crisis Fueled by Omega-6
Current data suggests nearly 600 million people worldwide have obesity. New research suggests that consuming too much omega-6 fatty acid-rich food versus omega-3 fatty acid-rich food may be helping to fuel the problem.
Current nutrition practices mostly focus on energy balance or the traditional formula of “calories in versus calories burned,” for weight loss. This approach seems to work for few people in the long term, because maintaining the weight, once lost, is a complex and challenging effort for most patients. Appetite doesn’t necessarily diminish after weight loss and in the presence of weight loss, hunger hormone levels shift, often instigating stronger hunger signals.
In a recent editorial published in the journal Open Heart, two physicians suggest that humans evolved on a diet made up of equal amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Thanks to advancements in food technology and the advent of a highly processed diet, the ratio has now shifted dramatically to 16:1 omega 6 to omega-3 fatty acids over the last 100 years. Contributing to the shift are omega-6 rich vegetable oils, and animal feed rich in omega 6 fatty acids. Specifically, linoleic acid and arachidonic acid found in meats, eggs and dairy products heavily populate the food scene.
What is the impact of a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids? Possible adverse health outcomes include increased levels of (unhealthy) white fatty tissue and chronic inflammation – hallmarks of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and cancer. Omega-6 increases insulin resistance, waist circumference, triglyceride levels, and leptin resistance. Additionally, high consumption can prevent the “browning” of white, fatty tissue into more thermogenic tissue, and promote blood clots.
Our bodies need both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but balance is crucial to our health. Individually, we also metabolize these fats at different rates, so some of us could be at even greater risk for an imbalance, especially if there is over-consumption of omega 6-rich foods. The two researchers involved in the study suggest that consumption of these two fats at the current ratio of 16:1, omega 6 to omega 3 is literally “setting in motion a metabolic storm in our bodies.” Their position also points to “a calorie is not a calorie” when it comes to discussion about health, rather than weight. The quality of the calories that make up our daily diet affects our state of health and whether or not we are setting ourselves up for lifestyle-related disease over the long term. They point to the Bellagio Report on Healthy Agriculture, Healthy Nutrition m Healthy People as a resource for understanding how our food choices affect our health.
It’s important to focus on daily calorie amounts and the quality of the foods we choose to eat every day.