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A Primary Cause of Our Current Obesity Crisis

October 13, 2012

In my last article I described the absolute essential nature of the two fats; linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (LNA), how the human body cannot make these fats and requires them to have life at all, let alone health. I further described how modern food processing removes nearly all of the LNA in any manufactured or processed foods, especially the cooking oils and salad oils you see in clear bottles on our grocery shelves. I failed to mention that if a raw oil with any LNA is put on a shelf in a clear bottle that ambient light will very quickly cause chemical changes (rancidity) to the oil and annoyed customers would be returning it promptly.

So the industry’s answer is to remove all of the fragile components including the LNA. Then you have foods and oils that provide a ratio of LA:LNA of about 30:1, which is far from the ideal 2:1 ratio that prevents inflammation. My admonition then is to get rid of any and all oils in your pantry in clear bottles and use butter, extra-virgin olive oil (in a dark bottle), and extra-virgin coconut oil for cooking. I use a mix of EV olive and coconut oils to make popcorn – the flavors seem to neutralize each another, and the corn tastes great with a little sea-salt and maybe some pepper in the oil for a little bite in the flavor. These new studies make me suspect that we may soon return to the age old idea that lard and bacon fat are pretty healthy cooking oils after all. My dad lived to 95, and probably 5 of 7 weekly breakfasts were eggs cooked in bacon fat, and his favorite breakfast meat was trout, always cooked in bacon fat; other times he ate the bacon.

My second admonition; never cook with any hydrogenated vegetable oil – the very worst fats you can consume (think Crisco). Avoid any and all pseudo-foods made with these popular refined oils; soybean, cotton seed, corn etc, like you will find in nearly all commercial salad dressings and manufactured food products. Beyond that I suggested that we take a daily dose of flax oil to provide the needed LNA to get the proper balance or ratio of LA to LNA closer to 2:1 or even 1:1. The dose will depend on how much of the LA we actually have in the food we eat, but we are looking to get close to the idea 2:1 ratio.

Now an article in the 10/6/12 issue of Science News added another set of reasons to make this change. Joseph Hibbeln, MD of the National Institute of Health and his colleagues have recently shown that high levels of LA in food lead to production of endocannabinoids (chemicals similar to those found in Marijuana) that increase hunger, and appear to slam our hunger meter on ’empty’ if we eat too much LA. Just like pot leads to the “munchies” (I don’t know about pot, but alcohol does the same to me), eating too much LA ramps up appetite and keeps it up.

The job of energy storage (and its balance with energy output) is managed by the hormone Leptin in conjunction with the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. The job of this system is to insure that we can survive famine in time of food shortage by building a certain amount of body fat when food is plentiful. The system has evolved (in virtually all animal species) to regulate our fat content to levels that can survive temporary food shortages normally seen in earth’s growing cycles. It has kept us well enough to survive as a species for quite some time.

The problem today is that there are no food shortages and food is everywhere; food loaded with LA and near zero LNA. We eat all the time, our hypothalamus gets dull and leptin signaling gets broken. This is called leptin resistance; its effect is that we get stuck on hungry, even when we have 200 lb of extra body fat. I have talked about how snacking or eating 6 times a day leads directly to this condition we call metabolic syndrome, which starts with leptin resistance, progresses to insulin resistance, obesity and ultimately diabetes or other inflammatory conditions like heart disease, cancer, dementia that kill us prematurely (and expensively).

Now we find that the drastic increase of these so-called healthy vegetable oils in our diet is a direct cause of metabolic syndrome and of our current obesity epidemic. In Hibbeln’s studies, animals fed omega-6 (LA)-dominant oils get obese while the animals fed the same caloric level of oleic acid oil (as in olive oil) do not. They showed that animals fed the high LA diet began to show nerve damage in the hypothalamus within a week, and that this damage was progressive and to a large degree irreversible. Scans of human brains show this same damage in obese subjects, indicating that inflammation from some cause is part of the metabolic syndrome complex. Now it looks like simply consuming too much LA might be a primary cause of this hypothalamus damage, fostering our epidemic of metabolic syndrome where our fat regulation system gets locked on ‘Hungry’ on a permanent basis. It also partially explains why once we have manifested this condition and become overweight, it is so very easy to pack it back on after we have dieted down. In Hibbeln’s studies, the low-LA group consumed 1% of calories from LA, about the same as the average human in 1900, while the high-LA group consumed about 8%, equivalent to today’s average USA diet; with that change alone the high-LA animals get progressively fatter – stunning!

In a short paragraph near the end of the article, almost as an aside, Hibbeln mentions that his rats fed the high LA diet avoided this rapid fat gain if they were fed fish oils along with the LA; more total fat in the diet, but they don’t get fat! My guess is that they also don’t have the associated hypothalamus nerve damage as well, but that is not stated in the article.

Here’s what I hope my readers get from this: our obesity trend can be prevented by adding enough omega-3 fats, and specifically LNA, to move the LA:LNA balance back toward 2:1. This is a fundamental condition that must be met for any kind of lasting health, and the longer this imbalance persists, the worse our health is going to be. As a nation we are facing a huge health-cost crisis, regardless of Medicare funding or Obamacare legislation. Changing this one simple aspect of our national diet could push the ‘diseases of aging’ liability 15-20 years out for the next generation.

Good Living – Frank

Frank Wilhelmi
Frank Wilhelmi

Frank Wilhelmi – Retired/consultant electronic engineer researches and reports practical strategies for optimizing health and fitness into advanced age. “I have a passion for living life to the fullest, and helping others to do the same.” A rapidly growing body of knowledge now enables us to extend our health and fitness decades beyond popular expectations.

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