Purpose of review: This review addresses the cardiovascular benefits of the two families of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (FAs): omega-6 and omega-3. The former (and the shorter chain species of the latter) are found in vegetable oils and nuts, whereas the longer chain omega-3 FAs are found in fish oils. Although most clinicians understand that the omega-3 FAs are beneficial, there have been calls in the popular press to reduce the intake of the omega-6 FAs because of presumed proinflammatory and prothrombotic effects.
Recent findings: The American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee has published two 'Science Advisories', one in 2002 on omega-3 FAs and a new one on omega-6 FAs. Both considered a wide variety of data regarding their effects on cardiac risk.
Summary: The AHA concludes that Americans need to increase their intake of long-chain omega-3 FAs and that they should maintain (and possibly even increase) their intakes of omega-6 FAs. For the omega-3 FAs, a healthy target intake is about 500 mg per day (whether from oily fish or fish oil capsules) and for linoleic acid, approximately 15 g per day (12 g for women and 17 g for men). Achieving healthy intakes of both omega-6 and omega-3 FAs is an important component of the nutritional prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease.