06 Apr 2018 Omega-3s Are NOT The “Healthy Fats”
Omega-3s are all the rage nowadays.
Everybody’s taking fish oil – it’s the new miracle cure, featured on the news, on every health site, and in the supermarkets.
Foods like salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts are considered the ultimate health foods because of their “heart-healthy” omega-3 fats, which are supposed to benefit everything from heart disease to diabetes to cancer.
And this is coupled with ridiculous claims of boosting the immune system, improving memory, and anti-aging effects.
But, omega-3s don’t have all the benefits that they’re claimed to have. They’ve been found not to protect against heart disease and stroke (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), cancer (4, 5), macular degeneration (6), IBD (7), aging (8), or dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurological disorders (9, 10).
Not only do omega-3s not benefit many of the diseases they’re claimed to, they also contribute to many of them.
But, before we get too carried away on all the problems omega-3s cause, let’s first talk about what omega-3s are, and how they differ from their omega-6 siblings.
Omega-3s vs. Omega-6s
Omega-3s and omega-6s are polyunsaturated fats. As I talked about in this article, these fats are incredibly harmful.
The omega-6 fats are mostly found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds, and were promoted as the healthy replacement for the “artery-clogging” saturated fats. But, it’s become more well-recognized that the omega-6 fats, which were once touted for their “heart-healthy” qualities and other supposed benefits, are harmful to our health.
The omega-3 fats, on the other hand, are found in fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and some other foods. These fats have come onto the health scene more recently than the omega-6 fats and are now replacing them as the “healthy fats.”
As I explained in the aforementioned article, the polyunsaturated fats, including both the omega-3s and omega-6s, are harmful for 3 reasons:
- They’re structurally weak
- They’re converted into harmful, inflammatory compounds
- They’re highly susceptible to damage
Well as it turns out, the omega-3s are even worse than the omega-6s when it comes to these 3 parameters.
You Thought Omega-6s Were Weak?
If you thought omega-6s were weak, just wait until you hear this.
The omega-3s have more double bonds than their omega-6 counterparts, making them even less stable. This leaves them structurally weaker and about twice as susceptible to damage than the omega-6s.
For example, DHA is one of the omega-3 fats that’s considered to be extremely beneficial. But, the amount of DHA used structurally in our cells is directly related to aging and lifespan (11). In other words, the more DHA in our cells, the faster we age and shorter we live.
This is because DHA is one of the weakest and least stable fats. When used as a structural component of the mitochondria, it increases the leakage of energy more than any other polyunsaturated fat (12). And, it’s 320 times more susceptible to damage than monounsaturated fats! (11)
As I mentioned in the last article on fats, when the polyunsaturated fats become damaged through lipid peroxidation they wreak havoc on the body. And, not only are omega-3s more susceptible to this damage, they’re also converted to compounds that are even more destructive.
When the omega-3s undergo lipid peroxidation they’re converted into hydroperoxides and endoperoxides. These compounds, as well as their reactive aldehyde breakdown products such as acrolein, HNE, and MDA, are extremely harmful.
These compounds damage proteins and DNA, including the cellular components that are needed for energy production (4, 13, 14, 15, 16). These compounds are also implicated in cancer, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease, aging, and are known to be neurotoxic (16, 17, 18, 19, 20).
Now, the argument may be made that eating these polyunsaturated fats doesn’t mean that they’ll become damaged and cause this destruction. But, many studies have discredited this argument by showing that increased omega-3 consumption (and PUFA consumption in general) does increase lipid peroxidation and the presence of their harmful breakdown products (21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29).
Omega-3s Are NOT The “Healthy Fats”
Maybe it’s overkill by now, but just to hammer the point home…
Because of the damaging effects of omega-3s and their derivatives, omega-3s have been implicated in causing cancer (30, 31, 32, 33), fatty liver (34, 35, 36), and insulin resistance (37, 38). And, like the omega-6s, they’re also strongly immunosuppressive (39, 40, 41).
And, while the omega-3s are currently recommended during pregnancy and infancy, they’ve been shown to cause shorter lifespans, lower body weights, and neurological abnormalities in children whose mothers consumed large amounts of them (42).
So with all that being said, can we stop promoting the omega-3s as healthy already? Or are we going to have to wait another 30 years to figure it out?
And while we’re at it, maybe we should reconsider all the fish oil supplementation.
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DovydasPosted at 07:12h, 26 September
Is it true, that even though if you would purchase the highest quality omega-3 supplement, with protective agents such as astaxanthin, vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols) , plus a blend of antioxidants/extracts to PREVENT the lipid peroxidation process – would such a product be beneficial for health or still harmful? Do these compounds protect against negative effects of omega-3’s & PUFA’s or would that still form toxic products in the body due to our body temperature being 36,6-37 C and omega-3 fatty acids oxidizing in a harmful way?
Jay FeldmanPosted at 11:59h, 06 October
Even if the omega-3s aren’t oxidized before they’re consumed or within the body, they’re still extremely problematic. When they’re integrated into the structural cellular components they dramatically reduce the efficiency of mitochondrial respiration (energy production) and are susceptible to future peroxidation. This is why the amount of DHA in the phospholipids is so tightly tied to aging and lifespan.
TimothyPosted at 21:50h, 11 May
What about fish?
Jay FeldmanPosted at 21:45h, 28 May
All of these ideas would apply to high-fat fish which are high in omega-3s, but low-fat fish are pretty low in omega-3s so they’re fine
nicotine2018Posted at 10:05h, 29 September
Well, what kind of fat are we supposed to eat then? (I am being generously curious, not sarcastic). Considering these fats are just what happens to occur in “natural” foods. I understand you are not a fan of low fat diets either. Red meat also has Omega 3, as does butter. So I am a bit of a loss here. Somehow it doesn’t make logical sense to me yet.
Jay FeldmanPosted at 12:15h, 29 September
The amount matters, so the very small amount of omega-3s in meat, dairy, eggs, and low-fat seafood isn’t an issue relative to the high amounts in fatty fish (or fish oil) and nuts and seeds
DanielPosted at 14:25h, 15 April
Hi Jay! Thanks for the really interesting approach on this matter. Isn’t this study stating the opposite than the other studies? https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19961266/
Thanks a lot!
Jay FeldmanPosted at 14:45h, 15 April
You’re welcome Daniel!
JasonPosted at 15:17h, 08 June
Aren’t these fatty acids necessary components of the cell membrane and organelles like mitochondria? Isn’t DHA one of the major lipid constituents of gray matter and retinal tissue? Are you advocating to not eat any omega-3s? What about the work of Garth Nicholson with lipid replacement therapy (soy phosphoglycolipids) helping folks with chronic fatigue and mitochondrial dysfunction?
CharliesPosted at 19:56h, 26 October
Hi Jay, I am a subscriber to Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s Found my Fitness. She just put out an article that came in my inbox at the same time as your e-mail. The article is by Dr. Bill Harris and claims innumerable health and longevity benefits of Omega 3, and blames low Omega 3 for a myriad of health problems. A highlighted quote from the article states: “[The Omega-3 Index] really is just a risk factor like cholesterol, except this is one that you can modify easily…you can just eat more fish or take supplements and you can raise your omega-3 levels and reduce risk.” – William Harris, Ph.D. The article sights a number of studies. Harris offers Omega 3 testing and provides dosage recommendations best on those tests. Much of this is way over the average persons understanding, mine included. I have listened to a bunch of your podcasts and taken one of your courses, but this information is quite mind-blowing. With such diametrically opposed studies it is no wonder there is much confusion on who/what to believe. Is Harris’s work, or the studies he sights flawed, and if so, how so? I really do want to know the real truth.
lauraPosted at 06:19h, 20 January
Hello, just looking at the reference list, most are quite old in terms of science. I wonder whether you could update this article with more current research within last 5 years or so.Thanks