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.

 

References
23 Comments
  • Dovydas
    Posted at 07:12h, 26 September Reply

    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 Feldman
    Posted at 11:59h, 06 October Reply

    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.

  • Timothy
    Posted at 21:50h, 11 May Reply

    What about fish?

    • Jay Feldman
      Posted at 21:45h, 28 May Reply

      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

  • nicotine2018
    Posted at 10:05h, 29 September Reply

    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 Feldman
      Posted at 12:15h, 29 September Reply

      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

  • Daniel
    Posted at 14:25h, 15 April Reply

    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 Feldman
      Posted at 14:45h, 15 April Reply

      You’re welcome Daniel!

      How so?

  • Jason
    Posted at 15:17h, 08 June Reply

    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?

  • Charlies
    Posted at 19:56h, 26 October Reply

    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.

  • laura
    Posted at 06:19h, 20 January Reply

    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

  • Martin Speake
    Posted at 05:03h, 15 October Reply

    Interesting stuff Jay. Any benefits of krill supplementation , which are low in fat ?

  • JD
    Posted at 23:46h, 29 October Reply

    I thought you did krill supplementation to take omega-3 fats, so how would they be low fat?

  • JD
    Posted at 23:59h, 29 October Reply

    If Omega-6 crowds out Omega-3 from blood that allegedly is a marker for good health. And Omega-3 fatty acids are very reactive due to the greater amounts of double bonds. Wouldn’t it make sense that the reduced intake of less harmful Omega-6 acids allows the more harmful fatty acids to be commandeered into the blood cells. Thereby prevent breakdown of free Omega-3 acids. Ironically eating less Omega-6 prevents breakdown of Omega-3. The studies that I know of the only health benefits from Omega-3 was reducing Omega-6 intake. Also the Omega-6 makes the cells leaky. Therefore for ideal health one should try to eat as little a possible of ANY form of polyunsaturated fat. Despite the presence of Omega-3 being in blood of the LESS unhealthy from a population group that eats literal trash. How is Omega-3 substitution wise? What do animal studies with saturated fat intake ONLY with zero unsaturated fats show? Other than reduced mitochondrial output what is the benefit of their consumption?

  • Curious
    Posted at 13:36h, 05 November Reply

    What is the maximum “safe” amount of omega-3’s one could consume?

  • Glenn E Murer
    Posted at 07:30h, 15 November Reply

    Jay, I would really appreciate a deeper dive into this topic addressing all of the science saying Omega 3s are beneficial. I know both opinions, pro and con, are backed by science, but how do we sort out the superior science and come to a conclusion that would hold up in a scientific debate. This is such a big issue.
    Thanks for all you do.

  • Carrie
    Posted at 12:43h, 15 November Reply

    I would like to know the answer to that, too! Should I not take krill oil?

  • Ronald H Levine
    Posted at 14:50h, 15 November Reply

    The brain is made up with a high proportion of DHA and the body doesn’t make it. It comes from the diet or your brain is deficient. Fragile? Who isn’t fragile? If we’re hit by a hypersonic missile, we die. Structurally week! Perhaps we should titanium to have superpowers. Someone tell me what I’m missing? Ronald H Levine in Sandy Utah 801 634-7249

  • Rocco
    Posted at 13:08h, 06 December Reply

    A wonderful article but it left me totally confused. Is this knowledge just based on observational studies? How do we know which one is correct? I am tired of doing damage to my based on so called science. I ask this question sincerely and not as a put down. I mostly follow a red meat diet, organs, fruits and some honey. Thank you so very much.

  • jack stewart
    Posted at 17:49h, 06 December Reply

    I take Krill Oil religiously. IS THIS HARMFUL???

  • Chris
    Posted at 17:39h, 10 December Reply

    There are a bunch of unanswered questions here, but I’ll add one more regarding mental health. The Omega-3 Connection, written by Andrew Stoll in 2001 touted the benefits of Omega-3 for the all manner of brain improvements. What is your response to that?

  • Arria
    Posted at 17:15h, 20 December Reply

    I wonder why I feel better when I take them? Especially my mood. There is a distinct lowering of mood and motivation when I stop.

  • Diana Anderson
    Posted at 17:23h, 08 March Reply

    I think balance is the key here. Although Weston A. Price should be thanked for much of this information, he and others who have carried on his message are rarely acknowledged. Nourishing Traditions points out that polyunsaturated fats must be treated with care because they are highly susceptible to rancidity and should NEVER be heated or used for cooking. Unless you are obtaining your polyunsaturated fat from foods or cold-pressed oils (for dressings), you are likely consuming rancid oil because it’s been heated and processed. However, these are essential fatty acids our bodies need. That being said, our intake of polyunsaturates shouldn’t be much greater than 4% of our total caloric intake. Our modern convenience diet of today definitely doesn’t mirror the 1:1 Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio that our ancestors had with many of us looking at more of a 1:20 ratio. I think the important message is that our ancestors maintained a healthy amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids through their diet. We need to avoid processed foods (including foods in restaurants which are primarily cooking with canola oil) and stop trying to supplement our way to health.

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