Higher omega-6 intake could lead to lower likelihood of conceiving male offspring and higher risk of pregnancy complications: Study
03/10/2020 // Franz Walker // Views

Omega-6 fatty acids represent one of the three kinds of "omega" fatty acids that the body needs, alongside omega-3s and omega-9s. However, while the consumption of omega-6 fatty acids is generally seen as a good thing, new research from Australia shows that they may have adverse effects on both pregnant women and women who are looking to conceive.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Griffith's School of Environment and Science, looked at the effects of diets rich in the omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, in pregnant rats. They discovered that less male babies were born during the experiment. The researchers also noted that the rats who ate a linoleic acid-rich diet had a higher-than-normal risk of pregnancy complications.

High levels of linoleic acid affect pregnancy outcomes

Diets high in linoleic acid are becoming increasingly common in Western societies, according to the researchers. Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid found in foods like potato chips and vegetable oil. But the researchers found that eating high amounts of this fat resulted in less male baby rats being conceived.

“Rat mothers can have between 4-12 babies typically,” said Dr. Deanne Hryciw, a senior lecturer at Griffith's and senior author of  the study. “Our study showed that eating a high linoleic acid diet reduced the percentage of male babies.”

Hryciw and her team also found that the diet altered concentrations of inflammatory proteins in the rats' livers and increased circulating concentrations of prostaglandin E, a protein that can cause contractions in the uterus during pregnancy. On the other hand, it decreased the levels of the hormone leptin, which regulates growth and development. 


The researchers noted these changes not only increase the risk of mothers developing pregnancy complications, but also lead to poor development of their offspring and a lower likelihood of producing males.

While the experiment was done on rats, their genetic, biological and behavioral characteristics are somewhat similar to humans. This means that there's a high possibility that Hryciw and her team's findings could apply to people as well.

With this in mind, Hryciw suggests that women who're thinking of getting pregnant should reduce the amount of linoleic acid-rich foods that they eat. However, she and her team are still uncertain if high levels of omega-6 fatty acids can cause long-term negative effects.

“My hope is that we have the opportunity to investigate further the links between high linoleic acid in the diet and birth outcomes and child development,” Hryciw said.

She and her team are now investigating if the baby rats born from mothers who ate diets with high omega-6 content have experienced any changes that can be linked to it.

Reducing you intake of omega-6s

Nuts, seeds, meats and eggs are common sources of omega-6 fatty acids. These fats can also be found in vegetable oil and soybean oil, which is often used in processed foods. For people who want to decrease their intake of omega-6 fatty acids, avoiding processed foods is the best and healthiest option.

That said, people don't need to eliminate omega-6 fatty acids from their diet completely. After all, these fats are essential nutrients that the body uses for energy. Omega-6s, like omega-3s, are also good for the heart and are important components of cells. Based on previous research, the ideal ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3s that people should have in their diet is between 1:1 and 4:1.

To learn about how omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids support your heart health, visit Heart.news.

Sources include:




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