By  Prof W J Serfontein


Medical dogma has taught us over the years that fats are unhealthy because they will be deposited in the tissues including the coronary arteries thus inter alia causing obesity and increasing the risk for heart disease. In the light of the latest scientific evidence, all  of these statements are wrong and their and practical implementation possibly very harmful.

The next step forward came some years ago when it was recognised that not all fats are harmful and that some may be beneficial – witness the Eskimo story with their very low incidence of heart disease in spite of a very high dietary fat intake. The work of Dyerberg and his collegues in Denmark focussed on the high dietary  intake of marine food sources in the Eskimos including fish but also much blubber and other marine food sources. The active components in fish were identified as certain essential fatty acids ( EFA) mainly of the w-3 series of which alpha-linolenic acid is the mother substance . On the other hand, it has been known for a long time , that the w-6 series of EFA` s is also of great importance but little attention was devoted to these acids by medical researchers because, analytically, it was found that the w-6 series is relatively abundant in the food chain. The true interrelationships between these two series of EFA1s is shown in the following scheme :


                                        w-3 series                                     w-6 series


parent substance        apha-linolenic acid                     linoleic acid


present in:        flaxseed, fish oil, walnut oil                walnut oil, sunflower oil                    


derivatives                   EPA, DHA                   GLA, DHGLA, ARACHIDONIC AC


converted into          Prostaglandin E3              Prostaglandin E1 and PGE2


Until recently, it was not realised that the high analytical figures for linoleic acid previously reported reflected the values of the free acid found in these products and did not take into account the very substantial degree  of decomposition that the esters of linoleic acid undergo during the processes of food refinement in order to  improve both stability and appearance of the final commercial product. It was not appreciated that these products are biologically inferior because the very properties that make these products unacceptable from a commercial point of view ( eg oxidation to dark colouration , opaque appearance) , are the ones on which their biological activity  rests. Thus the products that appear on the supermarket shelves as “ sunflower oil” do contain the claimed levels of linoleic acid as such but they do not retain the original biological activity of unrefined sunflower seeds due to extensive decomposition of the esters.

The high analytical linoleic acid( w-6) values relative to w-3 values reported led to the false conclusion that there is an abundance  w-6 EFA`s in natural products . This lead to the widespread promotion of w-3 oils (  fish oil) as supplements in order to restore the balance between  the two series of EFA`s. This is  not correct as shown in the following table in which the levels of the parent w-3 and w-6 levels in various tissues are compared :


Organ                 parent w-6                     parent w-3              % of total body wt

                        ( linoleic acid)                  ( linolenic acid)


Brain                        1                                      1                                 3

(nervous system)

Skin                    0.0001                                     1                             4

Other tissues         4                                           1                              9

Adipose tissue        22                                         1                              15 -35

( fat)

Muscles                  6.5                                        1                             60


( Adapted from Townsend Letter, Aug- Sept, 2007)


The table reflects the amount of parent w-6 present per one unit of w-3 and clearly illustrates the predominance of w-6 parent acid ( linoleic) over w-3 in virtually all body tissues with the exception o f the skin which contains only very small amounts of w-6 acids. It implies that the results of  previous studies showing the benefits of fatty acid  supplementation  (consisting of a mixture of fatty acids)  in the treatment of skin conditions, were entirely due to  the presence of w-6 in the supplement  

This is very much in contrast to present teaching.




Under such conditions, the body simply uses other available PUFA s to incorporate into the membranes with  all the health consequences that such a step may imply. Such rogue acids may include the damaged  w-6 PUFA`s which result from food manipulation ( eg trans fatty acids) or even non-essential fatty  acids such as the w-9 fatty acids in olive oil. Since these “ foreign “ fatty acids cannot fulfil the  essential task of  the unadulterated w-6 fatty acids  naturally present in food- particularly with respect to oxygen supply to the cell interior-the result will be a reduced supply of intracellular oxygen levels which implies an increased cancer risk( Cancer Res 1979, 39 : 1726)

Such a shortage of unadulterated w-6 fatty acids, also has other serious implications. Under such circumstances, the body will prioritise supplies in such a manner that the most vital organs( eg brain, lungs, kidney, heart) are first supplied with the result that organs which are of less direct life saving importance ( eg the prostate gland and the breast) receive even less of the available diminished supply of w-6 acid which in turn increases the cancer risk  in these organs. It is therefore not surprising that cancers in these tissues are  amongst the most prevalent in the world.




This question is quite relevant to the present discussion of w-3 vs w-6 acid supplementation . As a result of the circumstances outlined above, there is a general tendency ( sponsored  by the medical profession and enthusiastically supported by the pharmaceutical industry) to supplement mainly with the w-3 fish oils .

Studies have revealed that the major metabolic route of the w-3 acids in the body is that of energy supply to the cells via the process of beta-oxidation ( Lipids, 1992, 37, 12 : 1113) and not that of incorporation into cell membranes and tissue structures ( Lipids, 2002,37 : 1123). These studies have also revealed that if excessive amounts of  w-3 acids are supplied by way of supplementation, they may  nevertheless be incorporated into cell membranes with possible adverse consequences.

The current teaching that we require large amounts of w-3 acids such as alpha-linolenic acid and its derivatives DHA and EPA, has therefore been called into question by Peskin ( B Peskin,“ The Hidden cause of Cancer”, Pinnacle Press, Houston, Texas, 2008 ). Most of these acids  cannot be used in the membrane structures of cells and if they are present in amounts exceeding the normal cellular demands for the above mentioned purposes, they may displace those acids that are normally required for membrane structure ( eg the w-6 acids) as explained above. This may have harmful consequences and with the present over emphasis placed on supplementation with fish oils, this is something that we should now seriously consider( Peskin).

Having said that, it is necessary to retain a balanced view of fatty acid supplementation by ensuring balanced dietary intake of the two series of fatty acids while ensuring that the w-6 components of the supplement are in an unadulterated form.


                                    Practical guidelines


1)      Regularly supplement your diet with both fish oil (  w-3 ) and unadulterated sunflower oil ( w-6).

2)      Supplement daily with 2-4 ml  of each oil daily.

3)      The fish oil supplement must be free of heavy metals, especially mercury and lead.

4)      The sunflower supplement must be unadulterated eg extracted under nitrogen to  prevent oxidative adulteration of the product . It should also be bottled in dark containers  and stored at low temperatures.

5)      Both products should not be decolourised or otherwise manipulated to improve appearance.

6)      Store both products in dark coloured containers and only open briefly to remove the daily dose

This article was first printed in NATURAL MEDICINE magazine, issue no 63, page no 108. Natural Medicine  serves as a valuable educational vehicle on all facets of healthy living.   The publication integrates the most successful approaches to health maintenance, disease prevention and the treatment of ill health, and acknowledges Spirit in this process.
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