Humanity is in a world of hurt, and increasingly so as the modern foods and beverages of commerce proliferate about the globe. And while there’s growing concern about added sugars, refined grain products, and sugar-sweetened beverages, few are aware that the food supply would be far less toxic if its omega-6 content were drastically reduced. Fewer still are familiar enough with omega-6 research to appreciate the magnitude of the public health disaster wrought by the anti-saturated fat campaign.
I’ve been a long-time watch dog of the public health sector’s anti-saturated fat rhetoric. Before the Internet, I clipped thousands of articles about cholesterol, saturated fat, and sugar out of newspapers and magazines. Actually, from 1977 to about 2005, when I gained access to the Internet, I accumulated only three articles about sugar. That’s because up until 2004 there was hardly any money available for sugar research. That’s all changed. What hasn’t changed is that there is still little interest in the omega-6 hazard. Over that same period I collected zero articles on omega-6. And if I were still relying on the print media, I likely would still be unaware of the scope of the damage wrought by the introduction of omega-6 seed oils into the food supply.
Fortunately, for me at least, there’s the Internet and Evelyn Tribole. She used to blog regularly at Omega-6 Research News and Commentary. It was fortunate for me because it was her blog that introduced me to Bill Lands and his research. That man literally saved my life. For up until November of 2009 I routinely ate a peanut butter sandwich for lunch daily during the work week. When I heard Dr. Lands say, “Did you know that peanuts contain 4,000 milligrams of omega-6 in each 28 gram, one ounce serving of peanuts, and one milligram of omega-3?”, I realized my mistake. Since giving up peanut butter I have regained considerable strength and stamina. In addition, gingivitis is no longer a problem.
Beginning in early 2010, I established a Google Alert for “Omega-6, Lenoleic Acid.” This has allowed me to track omega-6 research. The most recent item of interest is this British Medical Journal Article.
Conclusions. Advice to substitute polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats is a key component of worldwide dietary guidelines for coronary heart disease risk reduction. However, clinical benefits of the most abundant polyunsaturated fatty acid, omega 6 linoleic acid, have not been established. In this cohort, substituting dietary linoleic acid in place of saturated fats increased the rates of death from all causes, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease. An updated meta-analysis of linoleic acid intervention trials showed no evidence of cardiovascular benefit. These findings could have important implications for worldwide dietary advice to substitute omega 6 linoleic acid, or polyunsaturated fats in general, for saturated fats.
This particular research has stirred things up a bit eliciting this response from the American Heart Association:
The British Medical Journal study is interesting, but not conclusive. It is offset by a large body of scientific evidence that continues to show cardiovascular benefits associated with eating mono- and poly-unsaturated fat, rich in Omega-6 linoleic acids, in place of saturated fats,” said Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., American Heart Association spokesperson and distinguished professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University.
The American Heart Association continues to recommend limiting saturated fats to less than seven percent of total calories consumed and supports eating between five to ten percent of total calories from Omega-6 PUFAs, within the context of an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes fruit, vegetables, high-fiber whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, poultry and fish,” Kris-Etherton said.
Note: Dr. Kris-Etherton was a member of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
Normally, any negative findings related to omega-6 research go unreported. This time it’s different. Even the food industry is paying attention. The article is also getting coverage by the Medical News establishment, The Boston Globe, and Forbes. Here are a few more headlines:
- Replacing Saturated Animal Fat with Vegetable Oils may not Protect Heart
- Substituting Vegetable Oils for Animal Fats May Be ‘Misguided’
- Re-Analysis Refutes Diet Guidelines Favoring Vegetable Fats
If nothing else, there’s a good bit of intrigue in the case: The case of the missing data.
Scientists don’t always report everything they discover. Sometimes loose bits of data can be packed up in a box with a bunch of old books and research papers and left in a garage in Sydney, Australia. And that means intriguing, puzzling findings that didn’t make sense back in the day, can slowly retreat into scientific oblivion, about to be lost to humankind for all eternity.
Except that, in this case, the phone rang and a determined scientist from Bethesda, Md. having managed to track down one of the last surviving members of a research team, asked Boonseng Leelarthaepin if he knew what happened to the dataset from the Sydney Diet Heart Study that wrapped up in 1973. Luckily Leelarthaepin is a packrat and he knew where to look. […]
“The recovery actually took a substantial amount of time because it was in a format that wasn’t readable by today’s standards,” Dr. Ramsden told me. He’s a researcher with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and he knew there was some potentially important information on that magnetic tape.
Dr. Ramsden tracked down some old equipment, recruited some experts, and after much technical handwringing, and format configuring, the data, that had originally been stored on punch cards, was translated into modern computer language so that it could be reanalyzed and interpreted. And what Dr. Ramsden found in that data made headlines this week.
It was a second look at an old clinical trial, first published in the 1970s, that had set out to measure the dietary effects of saturated versus unsaturated fat. It was assumed that if blood cholesterol could be lowered by reducing saturated fat in the diet, lives would be saved. But in this study, the subjects who switched to unsaturated fat had a higher risk of death.
“That was really unexpected,” Leelarthaepin told me on the phone from Sydney. Because unsaturated fat can lower cholesterol, “in theory, survival would be better,” he said. “But it was the other way around.”
Back then, Leelarthaepin was a research assistant on the study and, at the same time, he was collecting data for his own PhD on a different aspect of the research. I asked him what they were saying to each other in the lab when they were faced with a puzzling increase in mortality. “We had no idea” he said. “We thought there must be some other factor influencing that.” They adjusted the data, factoring in other risk factors like smoking, and still the observation held up. There seemed to be an increased risk of death from simply eating more vegetable oil.
I’d recommend reading the rest of it. It’s a veritable whodunit.
While this bit of research may signal a change, I’m not holding my breath. As Ray Medina noted in his Revisiting The Sydney Diet Heart Study blog post, “The US edible oils manufacturing industry includes about 200 companies with combined annual revenue of about $55 billion. Major companies include Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill Foods, and CHS. The industry is highly concentrated: the eight largest companies account for about 80 percent of industry revenue.” With this kind of financial clout, it may take an act of congress to reverse the anti-saturated fat campaign and out the omega-6 hazard. I’m working on that. Anyone else care to write to congressmen and senators and their policy advisors?
David Brown is an independent, lay researcher who focusses on anti-saturated fat reporting by writing to to reporters and researchers alike, alerting them to research they might not be aware of with respect to saturated fats, as well as the potential hazards of omega-6 fats.