Diet high in omega-6 fats increases risk for ulcerative colitis


Ulcerative colitis falls under the category of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). It is an autoimmune disease in which excessive inflammation kills cells in the lining of the colon, leaving ulcers behind. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition that commonly causes abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea, and it carries with it an increased risk of colorectal cancer. In some severe cases, the colon must be surgically removed. Clearly, this condition also causes a great deal of emotional trauma.1

Recent studies have identified dietary patterns that may predispose individuals to ulcerative colitis. High intake of fats, refined sugars, and fried potato products were positively associated with ulcerative colitis, and fruit consumption was found to be protective.2

Most recently, omega-6 fatty acids have been investigated. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning that we must obtain them from our diet for good health, but the typical American diet contains an excessive amount of omega-6, which can produce a pro-inflammatory environment in the body.

Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fat that is highly concentrated in red meat, cooking oils, and margarines. In the digestive system, linoleic acid is metabolized into arachidonic acid, which incorporates into cell membranes of the colon. When arachidonic acid is broken down further, its products are pro-inflammatory – these products are found in excess in the intestinal cells of patients with ulcerative colitis. For these reasons, scientists believed that excess linoleic acid might be linked to ulcerative colitis risk.

A prospective study of over 200,000 men and women in Europe found that the subjects who consumed the highest levels of omega-6 linoleic acid were 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. The researchers also found a negative association between the omega-3 fatty acid DHA and ulcerative colitis – subjects in the highest level of DHA intake decreased their risk by 77%.3

Avoiding excess levels of linoleic acid is simply accomplished by eating a diet that is based on whole plant foods and limits animal products and added fats. A diet of natural whole foods provides us with omega-6 fatty acids in appropriate amounts - not in excess – producing an anti-inflammatory environment.

For those who already have ulcerative colitis, it is important to know that the condition can be improved and sometimes completely resolved with dietary changes – conventional treatment of IBD often includes immunosuppressive drugs with dangerous side effects. Specific dietary recommendations for sufferers of IBD are outlined in the Inflammatory Bowel Disease newsletter



2. Shah S. Dietary Factors in the Modulation of Inflammatory Bowel Disease Activity. MedGenMed 2007; 9(1):60

3. Tjonneland A et al. Linoleic acid, a dietary n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid, and the aetiology of ulcerative colitis: a nested case-control study within a European prospective cohort study. IBD in EPIC Study Investigators. Gut. 2009 Dec;58(12):1606-11. Epub 2009 Jul 23.


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Comments (4) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Mike H. - January 21, 2010 5:27 PM

I read your IBD newsletter with great interest, until I got to the part where you completely misrepresent the specific carbohydrate diet proposed by Elaine Gottschall. Clearly you have not even read her book since you state that a number of foods that are actually KEY to the diet at all stages (like carrots) are not allowed on it!

You misrepresent her views entirely--whether this is out of ignorance or malice, it's inexcusable. If this is the quality of your "research" and the standard for your "medical insights" I can't trust any of the other claims you make. I'm very dissappointed to see that you're probably just another charlatan like Mercola, trying to establish a nutritional empire by making libelous statements against others to hide your own lack of research. This is expecially unfortunate in this instance, because if you actually read Gottschall's book you would see that she promotes a substantially similar diet for IBD health as you do (though hers has the benefit of actual research behind it--your failure to read it doesn't mean it doesn't exist).

Jennifer B - May 14, 2011 10:54 PM

Thank you for addressing the confusing array of suggested diets for IBD. I am concerned about the high animal fat nature of both the SCD and GAPS diet. Please post more under digestive health. I am particularly interested in SIBO, Candida, IBS, gluten/casien/lectic crossover, and raw cultured vegetables.
Again, my thanks for your expertise. I have a lot of confidence in your recommendations.

Jennifer B

Lisa B - September 18, 2012 10:24 PM

Thank you for your insight to Ulcerative Colitis. I wish I had that information 10 years ago! Now I have no colin and need to know how to eat now? My system is now completely different. My small intestines were used to replace my large. I cant absorb anything and vegetables are extremely difficult to digest? What would you suggest.

Thank you!

Holly Levine - June 1, 2013 2:22 PM

Lisa B- I too lost my colon to UC 20 years ago. Been on ETL 4 months. Going to have medical consultation on phone with Dr. Fuhrman associate Dr. Benson. Hope this helps!

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