Circulating omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and total and cause-specific mortality: the Cardiovascular Health Study

Circulation. 2014 Oct 7;130(15):1245-53. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.011590. Epub 2014 Aug 14.


Background: Although omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-6 PUFA) have been recommended to reduce coronary heart disease (CHD), controversy remains about benefits versus harms, including concerns over theorized proinflammatory effects of n-6 PUFA. We investigated associations of circulating n-6 PUFA including linoleic acid (the major dietary PUFA), γ-linolenic acid, dihomo-γ-linolenic acid, and arachidonic acid, with total and cause-specific mortality in the Cardiovascular Health Study, a community-based U.S. cohort.

Methods and results: Among 2792 participants(aged ≥65 years) free of cardiovascular disease at baseline, plasma phospholipid n-6 PUFA were measured at baseline using standardized methods. All-cause and cause-specific mortality, and total incident CHD and stroke, were assessed and adjudicated centrally. Associations of PUFA with risk were assessed by Cox regression. During 34 291 person-years of follow-up (1992-2010), 1994 deaths occurred (678 cardiovascular deaths), with 427 fatal and 418 nonfatal CHD, and 154 fatal and 399 nonfatal strokes. In multivariable models, higher linoleic acid was associated with lower total mortality, with extreme-quintile hazard ratio =0.87 (P trend=0.005). Lower death was largely attributable to cardiovascular disease causes, especially nonarrhythmic CHD mortality (hazard ratio, 0.51; 95% confidence interval, 0.32-0.82; P trend=0.001). Circulating γ-linolenic acid, dihomo-γ-linolenic acid, and arachidonic acid were not significantly associated with total or cause-specific mortality (eg, for arachidonic acid and CHD death, the extreme-quintile hazard ratio was 0.97; 95% confidence interval, 0.70-1.34; P trend=0.87). Evaluated semiparametrically, linoleic acid showed graded inverse associations with total mortality (P=0.005). There was little evidence that associations of n-6 PUFA with total mortality varied by age, sex, race, or plasma n-3 PUFA. Evaluating both n-6 and n-3 PUFA, lowest risk was evident with highest levels of both.

Conclusions: High circulating linoleic acid, but not other n-6 PUFA, was inversely associated with total and CHD mortality in older adults.

Keywords: cardiovascular diseases; epidemiology; fatty acids, omega-6; mortality.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arachidonic Acid / blood
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Cohort Studies
  • Coronary Disease / blood*
  • Coronary Disease / mortality*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / blood*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / blood*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Linoleic Acid / blood
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Stroke / blood*
  • Stroke / mortality*
  • Survival Rate
  • United States


  • Biomarkers
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Arachidonic Acid
  • Linoleic Acid