People in the Western part of the world consume far too much omega-6, primarily in the form of linoleic acid from vegetable oils and processed foods such as margarine, fries, chips, and ready meals. A new study that is published in The Journal of Physiology shows that this may be harmful during pregnancy and can increase the risk of complications and developmental disorders in the baby.
Earlier studies show that consuming too much omega-6 increases the risk of inflammation and cardiovascular disease. And it is essential to balance your intake of omega-3 and omega-6, whether you are pregnant or not.
Omega-6 is a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are constituents of our cell membranes and support a variety of biochemical processes. The type called LA (linoleic acid) is essential because the human body is unable to synthesize it. We depend on dietary sources of omega-6, especially nuts, almonds, kernels, and seeds. These foods also provide dietary fiber, which is highly beneficial. There is quite a lot of omega-6 in corn oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, soy oil, margarine, and processed foods. That, by the way, is why we get far too much omega-6 from our diets. What is important to know is that there is an interplay between omega-6 and omega-3, and it is therefore essential to consume these two types of fat in the right balance in order to ensure that the different biochemical processes run smoothly.
Too much omega-6 causes liver damage, inflammation, and hormone disruptions
The new study revealed that modern diets like we eat in the Western world typically contain three times as much omega-6 (linoleic acid) as the officially recommended intake level, and that may cause damage during pregnancy. In the study, rats for a period of ten weeks were given daily diets with far too much omega-6 in the form of linoleic acid. Afterwards, the scientists looked at how the diet affected the rats’ pregnancy and the development of their offspring. They looked at the pregnant rats’ weight and organ functions as well as blood concentrations of pro-inflammatory proteins, cholesterol, and the hormone leptin that is important for energy turnover and satiety.
What the scientists observed was that the pregnant rats that were fed too much omega-6 had elevated concentrations of pro-inflammatory compounds in the liver. If these compounds start to circulate in the blood, they may cause increased uterine contractions during pregnancy. The scientists also observed lower levels of a hormone that is important for fetal growth and development. These changes induced by too much omega-6 may therefore lead to different complications during pregnancy and may prevent the fetus from developing normally. The scientists also saw that the diet with too much omega-6 lowered the male birth rate. In addition, they point out that humans that consume diets with high levels of omega-6 often tend to eat too much sugar and salt
If eating too much omega-6 affects humans like it affects rats, the scientists advise women of childbearing age to reduce their intake of dietary omega-6, even though it is an essential fatty acid.
Why does modern man get more omega-6 and less omega-3?
Animal fodder with a lot of omega-6 from corn and soy, reduced fish intake, ready meals, margarine, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, and deep-fried foods are some of the reasons why we modern humans get too much omega-6 and too little omega-3. It is therefore advisable to replace margarine, sunflower oil and other omega-6 sources with olive oil that contains omega-9.
Why it is important to have the right balance between omega-3 and omega-6
Omega-3 and omega-6 support a variety of biochemical functions – including the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like compounds that control inflammation, labor contractions etc. Earlier studies show that pregnant women can benefit from taking fish oil that contains the two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. These are vital for fetal growth, brain development and regulation of inflammatory processes. Fish oil also helps optimize the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 and may help prevent pregnancy complications and premature delivery.
The Physiological Society. Don´t overdo omega-6 fatty consumption during pregnancy. SciendeDaily, May, 2019
Nirajan Shestha et al. Elevated maternal linoleic acid reduces circulation leptin concentrations, cholesterol levels and male fetal survival in rat model. The Journal of Physiology. 2019
R. Kofoed Vinding et al. Fish Oil Supplementation in Pregnancy increases gestational Age, Size for Gestational Age, and Birth Weight in Infants: A Randomized trial. The Journal of Nutrition. 2019
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