A new University of Eastern Finland study suggests that high levels of omega-6 fatty acids may protect individuals against premature death and help prevent cardiovascular diseases (CVD). The findings have been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Previous studies have established the cardioprotective properties of linoleic acid but not much is known about its impact on other causes of death. Study authors evaluated the blood fatty acid levels in adults from the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study that included 2,480 males aged 42–60 years in 1984–1989 to examine the risk of death and whether disease history alters the associations. During the 22-year follow-up period, there were 1,143 deaths due to disease-related causes of which 575 were due to CVD, 317 due to cancer, and 251 due to other-cause deaths.

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After classifying patients into 5 groups based on their blood linoleic level, the researchers found a 43% reduced risk of premature death among those with the highest linoleic level when compared with the group with the lowest level (adjusted hazard ratio [HR] 0.57, 95% CI: 0.46, 0.71; P<0.00). Further analysis indicated that a similar relationship was seen for death due to CVD (HR 0.54, 95% CI: 0.40, 0.74; P<0.001) as well as death due to non-CVD or noncancer causes (HR 0.48, 95% IC: 0.30, 0.76; P=0.001).

“None of the fatty acids were associated with cancer mortality,” added lead author and professor at University of Eastern Finland, Jyrki K. Virtanen

Regardless of baseline CVD, cancer or diabetes, the outcome was very similar (P>0.13). These findings support previous population-based studies that have reported a lower risk of CVD and type 2 diabetes with increased consumption of linoleic acid and higher blood levels, without increasing the risk of cancer. 

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“Our findings showed an inverse association of a higher biomarker of linoleic acid [LA] intake with total and CVD mortality and little concern for risk, thus supporting the current dietary recommendations to increase LA intake for CVD prevention,” concluded Virtanen.

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