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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