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June 2024
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Avoiding IBD with DHA

Omega Fat Consumption Can Affect Bowel Health, According to Study

Excess consumption of Omega-6s can lead to ulcerative colitis.

Excess consumption of Omega-6s can lead to ulcerative colitis.

In a recent “Mangano Minute” posting, I talked about the importance of balancing omega-3s and omega-6s.  I talked about how omega-6 fats – often painted as a bad source of fat – are actually good for you, so long as they’re eaten in proper proportion to omega-3s and from quality food sources (you can read it in full here).

Here’s another reason why they should be eaten proportionally:  It can affect your bowel health, be it positively or negatively.
The bowel health I speak of is a condition called ulcerative colitis.  And according to British researchers from the University of East Anglia, people whose diets are high in omega-6s but low in omega-3s are at the highest risk.

Ulcerative colitis is a specific kind of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, and it specifically targets the inner lining of the digestive tract’s large intestine and rectum.  The symptoms vary in type and intensity, but some common ones include bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping, unintended weight loss, and tenderness in the rectal area (people with ulcerative colitis often feel the urge to pass a bowel movement but can’t because of the severe inflammation).

In the researchers analysis of over 200,000 men and women, Dr. Andrew Hart and his colleagues used food frequency questionnaires to gauge what the then-healthy men and women were eating over a four-year period.  At the end of the study, Hart and company found that a very small proportion got ulcerative colitis, just 126 people.  What really spoke volumes, though, was the commonality of dietary intake among those who got the inflammatory bowel disease.  They found that those whose diets were highest in lineolic acid – a type of omega-6 fatty acid – were about 150 percent more likely to have been affected by ulcerative colitis.

On the other hand, there was also a linkage among those whose diets were high in omega-3s, specifically DHA (or docosahexaenoic acid, a fatty acid found most abundantly in flax seeds, walnuts and salmon).  For those people, they were about 80 percent less likely to have ulcerative colitis compared to those whose diets were low in omega-3s but high in omega-6s.

Speaking to, Hart said that if these results prove accurate – and more testing will confirm that – there’s every reason to suspect that the incidence rate of ulcerative colitis can be minimized through some dietary tinkering.

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House, there are about eight new cases of ulcerative colitis per 100,000 people per year.  That’s the incidence rate.  But for the prevalence rate, it’s much higher – about 246 cases per 100,000 people every year (there’s a subtle difference between prevalence and incidence.  Basically, “prevalence” is the total number of cases at any given point in time, while “incidence” is the number of new cases at a given time).

This study was published in the journal Gut.
Once again, it’s important to consume quality food sources that have both omega-3s and omega-6s.  As my last article referenced, the optimal amount of omega-6s to consume should be right around 12 to 22 grams worth, depending on age and activity level.  This is important to remember because omega-6s are found in far more foods than omega-3s, so they can be easily eaten in excess.  In more general terms, omega-6 fatty acids should take up about 10 percent of your daily calorie allotment.


Related Posts

  1. Omega-3 Fish Oils Greatly Reduce the Risk of Three Major Diseases, Study Finds
  2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Cut Colorectal Cancer Risk in Men, Study Finds
  3. Two Countries, Same Ethnicity, Different Diets: Despite Shared Ethnicity, Country Dwelling Leads to Different Eats, Health Conditions
  4. Omega-6: Not Bad After All?

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