Intended for healthcare professionals


Old study sheds new light on the fatty acids and cardiovascular health debate

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 05 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f493
  1. Philip C Calder, professor of nutritional immunology
  1. 1Human Development and Health Academic Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, MP887 Southampton General Hospital, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK
  1. pcc{at}

American Heart Association advice on omega 6 PUFAs cast into doubt

In a linked research paper (doi:10.1136/bmj.e8707), Ramsden and colleagues report “new” data from an old trial that shed light on the long running debate on whether increasing dietary linoleic acid intake reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) or death.1 Research conducted in the 1960s and 1970s suggested that some of the commonly occurring dietary saturated fatty acids raise total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations, whereas the omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) linoleic acid lowers total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations.2

Linoleic acid is present in high amounts in vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower, and soybean oils and in margarines made from these oils. It is the most prevalent PUFA and omega 6 PUFA in most Western diets. As a result of the effects of linoleic acid on cholesterol concentrations, lowering intake of saturated fat and increasing that of PUFAs has been a cornerstone of dietary advice, with the aim of decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).3

The American Heart Association recently repeated advice to maintain, …

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