Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill! | Part One
When it comes to the subject of fats and oils, no name stands out more prominently than Canadian oil expert Udo Erasmus. It was Udo’s tireless work into fats and oils in the early 1980’s that revolutionized a whole new industry. Since his first publication in 1986, Udo has become an international authority on the subject of fats that heal and fats that kill. His academic credentials include graduate studies in genetics and biochemistry and a PhD in Nutrition. He pioneered technology for pressing and packaging healthful oils and continues consulting services to industry, health professionals, and individuals from his base in Vancouver, Canada.
According to Udo: “Healing fats are required, together with other nutrients, to prevent and reverse so-called “incurable” degenerative disease: heart disease, cancer, and Type II diabetes. Healing fats help reverse arthritis, obesity, PMS, allergies, asthma, skin conditions, fatigue, yeast and fungal infections, addictions, certain types of mental illness, and many other conditions. Good fats also enhance athletic performance, skin beauty, longevity, and energy levels. Contrary to popular belief based on advertising hype, the most dangerous fats are typically found in margarine, shortening, and heated oils.”
Udo’s book “Fats that Heal Fats that Kill” is currently in its 14th printing and is considered by many in the health food industry to be the Bible on fats and oils. In this in-depth interview, Udo exposes the manufacturing process that turns healing fats into killing fats. He also explains the effects of these damaged fats on human health, and discloses information that enables you to choose health-promoting oils such as the all-important Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s. You may be shocked and surprised by what you learn after reading this interview.
Greg: Udo, give us a brief history of your background; how did you get interested in the subject of oils, and how did you become one of the most respected authorities on this subject?
I have been fascinated with living things ever since I can remember crawling. As a child I spent a lot of time in nature. When it was time to go to university I decided I wanted to know everything I could about nature so I got into biological sciences and got a degree in zoology. I did grad studies in biochemistry and genetics, but I left when researchers began to talk about cloning people. I’m a simple guy. I spent part of my childhood on a farm without electricity. With my German background, I felt that cloning people was a dangerous idea. I’m allergic to such ideas, so I left university just short of my master’s thesis in genetics.
I then started building houses and growing gardens, and ended up obtaining a pesticide applicator’s license. Somebody had to do the spraying. I eventually ended up getting poisoned by pesticides. There’s a lesson here: what you put out, you get back. Medical doctors couldn’t help me, and I’m not a very good victim, so I decided I would figure out how to help myself. I had, by the way, taken a year of medicine as part of my training at the University of British Columbia because I wanted to learn about health, and I realized very quickly that medicine teaches only about disease. Also, we were told in first year medicine that a doctor should always sound as though he knows what’s going on, even when he doesn’t. On the farm without electricity, we called that “lying” – they called it “PR.” That finished my medical career. I didn’t want to spend my life lying to people. By that time, I had figured out that I would probably learn more about health by studying normal organisms than by studying the abnormal function of sick cells.
When I got poisoned in 1980, I got refocused on health. I knew that fats and cancer have a relationship. Pesticides and cancer also have a relationship; 60% of the pesticides we spray are carcinogenic. Because of the cancer connection, I thought I needed to understand fats, so I researched the literature and dug out everything I could find on fats. I’d studied lipids in biochemistry, but that was, to me, the least important topic because we were all focused on DNA, RNA, and protein. In 1953, Watson and Crick had figured out the genetic code. Most biochemists were excited about sequencing DNA and proteins-and the overriding interest in genetics is where the idea of cloning came from.
As I said, we focused on DNA, RNA, and protein – not lipids. In fact, students called DNA, RNA, and protein the “holy trinity,” and called the professor “God” – joking, of course, but most students and researchers were really into it. Lipids were messy, they didn’t fit an elegant, predictable mathematical system the way DNA, RNA, and proteins do. There was no clean genetic code for fats.
Thinking that I had cancer from being exposed to pesticides, I spent almost six years studying fats. I was surprised to find out how much damage is done to oils by the processing that is used to make cooking oils, fish oils, and even borage oil, but particularly cooking oils, because that’s what people consume the most.
It goes like this: in order to give a long shelf life to an oil that by nature has a short shelf life, the oil industry treats that oil with corrosive base (NaOH), then with window-washing acid (H3PO4), in order to remove substances in the oil that are good for health but shorten shelf life. The oil is then bleached, which turns it rancid. Then, to blow-off the rancidity, the oil is heated to frying temperature. When that’s done, you have a supermarket cooking oil. That’s been done to all oils normally used, except for extra virgin olive oil. Research says about 0.5 to 1% of the oil molecules are changed and damaged during this processing. They become cyclized, cross-linked, fragmented, bond-shifted, and polymerized. The problem is that when you change a molecule from natural to unnatural you usually change it from healthy to toxic.
Greg: It seems like a lot more than 1% is damaged when you talk about all the chemicals that are used to obtain the oil.
No, it’s only 0.5 to 1%, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a problem of major proportions. Let me start to explain this problem with a story. One day, I asked a chemist at the American Oil Chemists’ Society, “When you know how much damage is done to oils by processing, why do you do it?” He said: “This treatment removes 50% of the pesticides present in the oil.” I thought to myself: The other 50% stays in the oil. So I asked him: “Why don’t you start with organically grown seeds that are free of pesticides?” There was a long silence at the other end of the phone. When he came back to me, he was really angry, and said, “I don’t know what your problem is. The oil is still 99% good – it’s only one percent damaged. If you got 99% on an exam in school, you’d be pretty happy, wouldn’t you?” I wrote a few exams in which I got 100%, so I was not as impressed with 99% as he was! But then I thought “Gee, maybe he’s overreacting because I’ve overreacted.” It occurred to me to do the math. How many toxic molecules (and research shows them to be very toxic) do you get in oil that is 1% damaged by processing?
In science there is a special number – six followed by 23 zeros, called Avogadro’s Number – which is the number of molecules contained in the number of grams of that substance that are equivalent to its molecular weight. It’s a little bit technical for non-chemists, but the math (I’ve rounded the numbers to make it a bit easier) based on this number is easy to follow.
First Question: How may oil molecules are in a liter (quart) of oil? The molecular weight of an oil (triglyceride) molecule is about 1,000. A liter of oil (close to 1,000 grams) contains about 6 followed by 23 zeros molecule. A number with 23 zeros is huge.
Second Question: How many oil molecules are in one tablespoon? There are about 100 tablespoons in a quart of oil. To get the number of molecules in 1% of the oil, you knock two zeros off the 23, which leaves you with six followed by 21 zeros. Still a huge number.
Third Question: How many toxic molecules are in a tablespoon of oil that is 1% damaged by processing? To get that number, you knock off two more zeros, leaving six followed by 19 zeros as the number of toxic molecules in one tablespoon of oil that is 1% damaged by processing. These numbers apply to our usual food oils.
That’s a humungous number of toxic molecules. The number is incomprehensibly large, so let me break it down for you. One million toxic molecules for every one of your body’s 60 trillion cells are present in just one tablespoon of food oil that’s 1% damaged by processing.
Greg: Are you talking about trans fats, Udo?
No, I’m not. Trans fats make up only about 1 to 2% of the toxic molecules in processed oils. I’m talking about other, more toxic molecules: cyclized, cross-linked, fragmented, bond-shifted oils, polymerized – all kinds of different kinds of damaged oil molecules.
Greg: You’re referring to just plain old conventional vegetable oil that you’d find in any grocery store right?
That’s correct – everything except extra virgin olive oil. Why are these damaged oil molecules a problem for health? The answer goes back to how health works. Your body’s program for health is your genetic program. You got half of it from dad and half from mom. Sex. Fertilization. Pregnancy. Birth. And there you are. Your genetic program, two copies of which are present in every one of your body’s 60 trillion cells, knows how to take food, water, air and light to construct eyeballs, toenails, and everything in between – brain, liver, heart, skin, hair, bones, immune system…etc. The genetic program is incredible to be able to do that. Let me say it another way: You’re made of three buckets of water and a handful of dust. Life’s energy (religious people call this energy God), using the genetic program, the nature that you got from your parents, turns water and dust into you, a human being who, for a while, can have the human experience.
We ought to be in reverence of that – we ought to have deep respect for life and the genetic program. But we take it for granted by treating it with great disrespect until something goes wrong. Then, we run to an expert who has little respect or reverence for its nature and requirements, and let him throw synthetic, man-made, unnatural poisons at this program.
My worst experience – being poisoned by pesticides – turned into my best experience because it got me focused. I tell religious people that they should thank God that I got poisoned, because it led to great benefits for many people. We could really go into that at another time. I’m profoundly interested in human nature, in spirit, and in peace.
Pam: You also sound like you’re quite a philosopher. You know, Udo, I was shopping in a grocery store and I found two products – a commercial muffin and a salad dressing that said “No trans fats.” The two oils that were listed in the ingredients were soy and canola, and I thought to myself, “How could it be possible that there are no trans fats in a product that contains highly processed vegetable oils such as canola and soy?”
Because the oil itself, even by the processing that I’ve just described, will have less than a half percent trans fats. The regulations state that if there’s less than 0.5% trans fats in a product, you can round it to: “No trans fats.” You have to have more than half a percent before you have to put trans fats on the label. But the amount of trans fats is not that big. The other damaged molecules in processed oils are much more toxic than trans fatty acids. They’re more toxic because the body can actually burn trans fatty acids, but it doesn’t know what to do with cyclized and cross-linked molecules. Sometimes they get polymerized, which means you have a whole lot of cross-linked molecules, and the body doesn’t know what to do with that. In fact, that’s how you get brown spots on your skin. They are called ‘liver spots’ or lipofuscin.
But let me go back to the million toxic molecules per cell – why are they a problem? Your genetic program is fixed, but how it works is really flexible. If you give it the right molecules from nature, it will build healthy cells, tissues, glands, and organs. If you give it unnatural, synthetic, toxic molecules, this same genetic program can build tumors, deposits in arteries, pain in joints with swelling and inflammation, and the other molecular reactions that we call “disease.” This means that your genetic program is your program not only for health, but also for disease.
When a doctor says your problem is genetic, he’s right because almost everything that goes on in your body is genetic. But when he says you can’t do anything about it (so shut up and take his pill) he’s usually wrong, because the body is unbelievably responsive to changes in environmental molecular input. If your genetic program has food, water, air and light to work with, it does a good job and you end up with a healthy body. If your genes must contend with pesticides, plastics, pharmaceutical drugs, industrial chemicals, heavy metals, smoke, alcohol, and wrecked food molecules, then their functions will be affected in a way that produces disease. That is why environmental issues cannot be separated from health issues. Today, most of the molecules that change gene expression in the direction of disease are man-made. Whether they come from processed foods, pharmaceutical drugs (with their side effects), pesticides or plastics, these synthetic, man-made molecules, are apt to interfere with the specific gene expression required for building a working body.
How many toxic molecules per cell does it take to change gene expression? In genetics, we learned that in bacteria, only two molecules per cell are required to change gene expression. Bacterial cells are smaller than human cells – maybe 100 times smaller – so human cells might require two hundred molecules, maybe even 1,000 molecules to change gene expression – but we’re getting a million toxic molecules for each cell in the body in just a tablespoon. Most people use two or three tablespoons a day. If these oils are fried, they are even more damaged.
When I learned about this damage from processing, I concluded that we should make oils with health, rather than shelf life in mind. In 1983, as my first effort to make a positive difference (instead of just complaining about how bad oils are), I developed methods for creating healthy oils. Now, several oil manufacturers use the methods I developed and taught them.
Greg: Udo, can you elaborate on that method at all, or is that a trade secret?
Fundamentally, the oils need to be protected from light, oxygen, and heat while they’re being filtered, and while they’re being filled, and they need to be put in dark glass containers and refrigerated. If that’s all done, the oils that are richest in Omega-3’s only have about a three to six month shelf life. They can be frozen (oils shrink when frozen, so bottles won’t break) for a shelf life of 2 years.
The second piece of important information that I found is about the essential fatty acids. I knew that the word ‘essential’, when applied to nutrients, has a very specific meaning. An essential nutrient is one that the body must have for health, cannot itself make, and must therefore obtain from outside. Insufficiency (deficiency) of an essential nutrient leads to deterioration of health. Deficiency worsens with time. The symptoms of deficiency are degenerative in nature. Too little, for too long, of an essential nutrient leads to death. If enough of the essential nutrient is re-introduced into the diet, symptoms of the deficiency can be reversed.
That definition fits 20 minerals, 14 vitamins, 8 essential amino acids from proteins, and 2 essential fatty acids from fats.
The two essential fatty acids are called omega-6 (n-6) and omega-3 (n-3). N-6 (linoleic acid; LA) was established as ‘essential’ in 1930, but n-3 (alpha-linolenic acid; ALA) essentiality for humans was established only in 1981, the year after I was poisoned and began to study fats. The timing was perfect to get in on applying this new information (about n-3 being essential), which very few people knew at that time.
I also found out that our intake of n-6 has doubled over the past 100 years (albeit in a partially damaged form due to the destructive processing used), and that our intake of n-3 is down to 16% of the amount present in diets 150 years ago. Even in 1850, people were already not getting enough n-3 for best of health. Probably 95-99% of the population gets too little n-3 in their diet.
One of the main reasons for its decrease in the diet is that n-3 is quite sensitive to destruction by light, oxygen and heat. N-3 is five times more sensitive to damage than the n-6. If you process n-3 the same way as n-6 cooking oils, you do even more damage to n-3 oils than what has been done to n-6 oils.
Not a great deal of research had been done on n-3 in 1981. But, I wanted to know what health benefits people would experience if they increased their consumption of this essential fatty acid (n-3).
In 1986, using methods for making oils with health (rather than shelf life) in mind, I developed flax oil with a small group of people untrained in science but willing to work.
Why did I choose to make flax oil? Flax oil is the richest source of n-3 available to us. It contains almost twice the amount of n-3 than the n-3 rich fish oils. A second reason for starting with flax oil is that n-3 is the most sensitive of the essential nutrients and the most easily damaged oil. If I could successfully make flax oil with health in mind, any other oils I might want to make would be a piece of cake.
After the oil became available, I observed several pleasant changes in myself and in others. First, our skin became soft, smooth, and velvety. Second, we had more mental and physical stamina. After a few months, people reported that they seemed to be able to process better, solve problems faster, and that they felt smarter. Third, people reported that their mood was better, and that they suffered less from low mood and depression.
Over the past 20 years, a great deal of research has been done on n-3. That research can be summed up in one sentence. Increasing intake of n-3 in the diet improves almost all of the degenerative conditions of our time. This is because they are essential for health. Every cell, tissue, gland, and organ must have them to function normally, and most people don’t get enough.
The third important thing I learned was that I became n-6 deficient by using flax oil as the only source of fat in my diet. This happened because flax is three and a half to four times richer in n-3 than n-6. N-3 and n-6 compete in the body for space on enzymes that convert these essential fatty acids into derivatives and hormones.
Too much n-3 crowds out n-6. Too much n-6 crowds out n-3. Flax oil has so much n-3 and so little n-6 that after a few months of exclusive use of this oil, n-6 deficiency results, I got dry eyes, skipped heart beats, heart beat abnormalities, and thin dry papery skin. Others reported more infections, eczema and psoriasis-like skin problems. And new research indicates that the high n-3, low n-6 ratio of flax can also increase cancer due to immune system deterioration from an n-6 deficiency. One can reverse all of these symptoms by changing the ratio (decreasing n-3 or increasing n-6 over what flax oil supplies).
The traditional Inuit (Eskimo) diet provides the highest in n-3/n-6 ratio in the world. It is two and a half times richer in n-3 than n-6. Three and a half to four times is too high. I did the experiment on myself and that’s when I realized we should be getting more n-6, also made with health rather than shelf life in mind. So, we have n-6 in the blend I formulated in quantities sufficient to prevent n-6 deficiencies but still emphasize n-3 because they also offer great health benefits.
Some people say that we should use flax oil because people get lots of n-6. You know they’re not interested in health when they say that, because the n-6 they’re recommending are damaged, provide toxic molecules (1 million for every one of the body’s 60 trillion cells), and increase inflammation and cancer.
To improve their health, I want people off those ‘white’ oils just as I want people to avoid white sugar and white flour. To improve their health, I want people to use oils made with health in mind with the ratio on n-3/n-6 that is optimal just like I want them to use molasses and stevia instead of sugar.
People should refrain from cooking with oils made with health in mind. They can put these good oils on hot soup and steamed vegetables, but they should never be used for frying because frying overheats oils and makes them very toxic. Frying is a health-destroying habit, no matter what oil you use – even if it’s butter or coconut fat. If food turns brown during the cooking process, it has dried out, been overheated, and become toxic. The toxic molecules change the expression of many genes in the direction of inflammation and cancer. When you exceed a safe temperature and turn food brown you not only change the chemistry food and you’ve also damaged the oil.
A fourth issue that I took on later is to recommend glass instead of plastic for packaging oils because glass is inert. Oils swell plastics, and make the drift of molecules from plastic into oils easier. We know that something from plastic leaches into water because we can taste it, but drift from plastic into oils and foods rich in fats is even more rapid and extensive. There are other problems with plastic. When furnace black (the black pigment used to make some plastics opaque) is made, carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed. When the black plastic bottle was measured for minerals, 3ppm of lead was found along with 8ppm aluminum, which is part of the process by which plastic is made. A stabilizer found in plastic is toxic to aquatic wild life.
You can smell something that outgases from plastics. Plastics are non-natural, synthetic, man-made molecules that have never existed in nature. They are not essential nutrients. Biological organisms have never needed to develop methods by which these synthetic molecules can be safely, effectively, and usefully metabolized by creatures. There are no enzymes in our body for breaking down plastics.
In some plastics, there are estrogen mimickers that leach into the environment and change sexual structures and sexual behavior. Some plastics (like PVC) cause cancer.
Since I am interested in helping people improve their health, my policy is that if I have a choice between something that is safe and non-toxic and something about which there is some doubt, I will choose what is non-toxic, even if it is more difficult to work with, as is the case with glass.
Before I knew all this, I thought plastics to be suitable for oils, but after I learned more about plastics, I changed my mind and opted for amber glass, which doesn’t leach, and put the glass bottle in a box to cut the light out completely.
Greg: So, prior to the early 1980s there were relatively few essential fatty acids in supplemental form on the market?
There was a linseed oil that a company used to sell. Linseed oil is what you get when you treat and damage it in the same way as cooking oils are treated and damaged. For short, we say that linseed oil has been treated with Drano (NaOH), window-washing acid (H3PO4), bleached, and fried (deodorized). I recommend linseed oil for painting furniture, but not for human or animal consumption.
By 1983, with our new oil extraction methods, flax oil became the healthy version of linseed oil. In 1987, I did a little tour and in 1988 I did a huge tour around the U.S. I visited 85 cities in 101 days in a van without air-conditioning on this tour, which lasted from mid-June to mid-September. My driver and I covered 35 states and drove 17,000 miles. And I talked to everyone who was willing to listen to me.
We were on fire for this new oil and what it could do for human health. We knew much less than we do now about the virtues of n-3; we didn’t have the n-3/n-6 ratio right; the packaging had to be changed later; but we had made a start.
We know that the oil blend I now work with (Udo’s Blend) can increase stamina by 40-60% in people who exert themselves physically on a regular basis. They take one Tbsp/50 pounds of body weight/day. We know that besides skin, mood, and learning effects, people become calmer, cholesterol and blood pressure can normalize, triglycerides can normalize, swelling and pain can decrease, fat-burning in the body can be turned up while fat production will decrease, bones, hair and nails can become stronger, the immune system can do its work better, insulin can do its job better, and many other benefits can occur.
But here’s the sad news. After almost 20 years of working our tails off, we have reached less than 1% of the population with this good news. N-3 deficiency is still the single most widespread essential nutrient deficiency of our time. Every cell in your body still requires n-3 and n-6. That’s why these fats have the potential to do so much good. Oils are being made with health rather than shelf life in mind. But the good news needs to go out to far more people. I’d like to help them all become healthier. That’s one of my great passions in life.
Pam: There are two types of N-3’s on the market – alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid.
“LA” is linoleic acid, the n-6 essential fatty acid. “ALA” is alpha-linolenic acid. ALA is the seed n-3 – the basic 18-carbon, three double bond n-3. The other type of n-3 that you refer to is what is loosely known as the fish n-3: EPA and DHA. They have 20 carbons, five double bonds and 22 carbons, six double bonds, respectively. EPA and DHA are derivatives of the basic 18-carbon oils.
I say ‘loosely known as fish n-3’ because the truth is that EPA and DHA are found, not only in fish, but also in krill and algae. They are also found in whale, seal, polar bear, and other polar (both north and south) creatures. The human body has a system of genes and enzymes whose job it is to convert ALA to EPA and DHA. The conversion requires several tightly controlled steps. I say this because there is controversy regarding this issue. Those who sell fish oils generally say that the body cannot do the conversion. It is not a new controversy, but let me shed some light on it.
From the time I started working with seed oils, and perhaps even before, the fish oil industry has said that the body can’t convert ALA to EPA and DHA. I would ask them: “Show me the studies” because I had read a lot of important research on fats and had never come across research that showed that the body can’t convert. Then they would change the story and say: “Well, the body of some people can’t convert.” When I asked for those studies, they’d say: “Well, the body of some people can’t convert enough.” And when I’d ask to see that research, they would say, “The body of some people can’t convert enough, maybe.” There were never studies that showed that the body can’t convert ALA to EPA and DHA.
The conversion issue is important, because DHA is required for brain function, vision, and sperm. If conversion was impossible and we did not have a source of DHA in the diet, we could not think, see, or reproduce.
Pam: I made the mistake of becoming a vegetarian to try and get well. I became very ill in the late 1980s. I started taking flax oil around 1990. When I was a vegan, I used the flax oil – probably on a subconscious level – to replace the fats I was missing by being a vegetarian.
Until quite recently, the vegetarians I met were on low fat diets. I gave a talk to the National Vegetarian Society in Las Vegas in the late 1980s. All of them equated vegetarianism with low fat, and low fat with good health. But they were not very healthy. Most of them had dry skin and low energy. So I talked about the danger of low fat diet. Vegetarianism can have some benefits and can make sense, especially as meat and fish become more polluted. When vegetarians added my oil blend to their diet, their skin and energy levels improved noticeably within a very short time.
Pam: But are they able to convert the ALA into DHA and EPA?
Well, think about it. We’re getting 16% of what people got 150 years ago, and they were already too low then. That means 90-95% of the population doesn’t get enough starting material. Are they going to convert enough without having enough starting material? Obviously, if you get no ALA, you will not be able to make any conversion to EPA and DHA. The critical factor is not the ability to convert, but the lack of starting material in most people’s diet. To fix that serious problem, I’d like there to be a bottle of my oil blend in every fridge. Once people get enough starting material, the conversion can proceed effectively.
So what’s “enough?” Researchers have found that 2 grams of ALA will already improve cardiovascular health. A survey of the studies that measure conversion or ALA to EPA and DHA, which was published in 2004, concludes that 5-10% of the ALA a person consumes will be converted into EPA, and 2-5% of the ALA a person consumes will be converted into DHA.
I recommend a lot more ALA than 2grams/day. One Tbsp of the blend/50 pounds of body weight/day is a ballpark optimum. I personally take four tablespoons of the oil blend during the winter. The blend is about 50% ALA and a Tbsp holds about 14 grams of oil. 4Tbsp (about 25% of calories in a 2,000calorie diet) is about 28 grams of ALA.
Even at the 2% (lowest) conversion rate, the ALA intake I recommend (using my blend) produces about the amount of DHA that one would get from 3 capsules of fish oil. At 5% conversion, one would get DHA at the equivalent of 6 fish oil capsules.
We know that conversion also takes place in many of the other animals. Have you ever seen a gorilla, bonobo, or a chimp eating fish? No, they’re vegetarian. All have a large brain and big eyes with plenty of DHA, and DHA-rich sperm. Horses, cows, sheep, goats, and rabbits don’t eat fish. All have DHA in their brain, eyes, and sperm.
How about human populations of the past? Some ate fish (coast, river, lake dwellers), and some did not (people on the prairies, steppes, plains). Both types have big brains and eyes with plenty of DHA, and DHA-rich sperm.
How about human populations of the present? Fish consumption in America is low, but there is little, if any, difference in brain, eyes and sperm in the population. And the Hindu culture, both present and past, is a non-fish culture. They eat mostly vegetables, and augment that with a small amount of dairy. They are as smart, as visual, and as fertile as fish-eating populations.
Some studies suggest that conversion rates are higher than 5%. Other studies have shown that premature infants, children, adults and old people are able to convert ALA into DHA if given enough starting material. There is also some evidence that the brain, which needs the most DHA, is able to convert ALA to DHA at two to six times the rate of conversion that takes place in the body.
Studies have even identified several nutritional factors that increase the rate of conversion of ALA to DHA. Conversion increases by more n-3, less n-6 and other fats, the presence of GLA (evening primrose oil) in the diet, and the presence of phytosterols. The presence of phytoestrogens seems to increase conversion rate, and women may convert more effectively than men.
Studies have also identified factors that slow down conversion of ALA to DHA. These include CLA, trans fatty acids (margarines, shortenings, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and the foods containing them), high carbohydrate diets, high fat (Atkins-type) diets, low n-3/n-6 and n-3/other fats ratio.
And finally, fish oils simply cannot provide enough oil in the diet. Even at the highest dose recommended (10 grams), fish oils make up less than 5% of calories. 10% of calories as fat (a low fat diet) results in dry skin, low energy levels, and other health problems, especially long-term adherence to such a diet.
It makes the most sense to use 2, 3, or more Tbsp/day of seed oils made with health in mind and with a good n-3/n-6 ratio to build the fat foundation of health, and to use fish oil in addition, if necessary.
To summarize: If you get enough starting material, you’ll get enough DHA and EPA. The fish oil industry has always said that’s not true. They have done a lot of research, but the researchers talk for the people who give them their grants – there is a lot of lying going on in that industry now. I attended a conference organized by the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL, 2004) in Brighton, UK. ISSFAL was supported only by the fish oil industry.
In his article entitled “The Scientific Calculation of the Optimum Omega 6/3 Ratio”, Brian Peskin talks about all the problems fish oil can cause – including a decrease of immune cell responses. That research was reported at the ISSFAL, 2000 conference, but despite this type of research, most of the members of ISSFAL are promoting fish oil now. Only a few researchers quietly say that the seed and vegetable n-3’s are getting a bad rap.
Greg: What do you think is the best, the vegetable derived or fish derived?
Both may have a place, but let me tell you why I decided to use only seed oils in my blend. When I developed the methods for making oil, I could have chosen to use fish oil. In fact, fish oil sales are higher than vegetable n-3 oils. I could sell four times as much if I promoted fish oil. I’ve been tirelessly making the case for the importance of good oil for almost twenty years now.
But when I considered fish oils, I recognized two reasons for caution: first, the damage done by processing (nobody talks about it); and second, environmental pollution. I decided to go with seed oils because we can get them organically grown. Remember how I said the n-3 is five times more sensitive to damage done by processing than the n-6? That’s the seed n-3. Fish oil n-3s-EPA and DHA-are a further five times more sensitive than seed n-3s. They’re twenty-five times more sensitive to damage done by processing than the n-6 cooking oils.
The second caution, fish pollution, was already known twenty years ago, not by the public, but by researchers. PCBs, dioxins, mercury, pesticides, persistent organic pollutants, lead in some fish…and recently they’ve found a cousin of antifreeze in fish. There was ten times more of it in the farmed salmon than in the wild salmon. For PCBs and dioxins, farmed fish had 8 times more PCBs and 11 times more dioxins than wild fish. But wild fish aren’t clean either.
More recently, a third problem has surfaced: the depletion of fish stocks by over-fishing. It is a problem worldwide.
Industrial PCB’s and dioxins are dumped into the environment. They travel downhill with water, and end up in the ocean. There, because they’re oil-soluble, they will concentrate in oil. Guess what that is? Fatty fish, seals, whales, polar bears that eat that food, etc. They are high on the food chain and, therefore, will have concentrated amounts of the toxins. Salmon and tuna are higher on the food chain than herring and sardines, which are higher than krill, which is higher than algae. The lower on the food chain, the less concentrated the toxins in the oil.
Pam: Some companies selling cod liver oil are calling it “pharmaceutical grade.” Some competitors have told me that this is a misleading term.
“Pharmaceutical grade” means more processing. Pharmaceutical grade oil is treated in ways similar to how cooking oils are made. Remember? Drano, window-washing acid, bleach, and overheated to get rid of the rancidity. Chemical purity is not a mandate of nature. It is a factory term.
Pam: So when they say “pharmaceutical grade” it means absolutely nothing?
There is a definition for it. The issue is that the term ‘pharmaceutical grade’ itself is a processing term. It is also a standard of ‘chemical’ purity borrowed from chemical research, which has nothing to do with health. There are still impurities in ‘pharmaceutical grade’ products. What we are not being told is what contaminants are found in the ‘pharmaceutical grade’ product, nor how much. The use of the term is pure marketing. You are to assume that it means better for you, less toxic. The hope is that you don’t question what it really means. So it really is just marketing window dressing.
My question is: How exactly does ‘pharmaceutical grade’ improve my health? Health is not ‘pharmaceutical grade’. Would you buy ‘pharmaceutical grade’ fish, seeds, or spinach? I would rather know exactly how many PCB, dioxin, pesticide, and processing-damaged molecules are in the oil. I would like to know the limits of detection of these toxins. Then I have real information that gives me real choice.
Since 2002, the European Union has mandated a test for fish oils that is 20,000 times more sensitive than what we use in North America. Ours is about one part per million (1ppm); theirs is 0.02 parts per billion. At the 1ppm level of detection, some fish oils looks clean, but at 0.02 parts per billion (0.02ppb) all the oils (over 40) that I have seen tested contain PCBs and dioxins.
Greg: How do they process most of the fish oils, Udo?
Think about it this way: if you squeeze a seed, you get oil – it’s easy, while if you squeeze a fish, you get a mess – and you then have to clean up that mess. The more processing is required, the more damage is done to the oils.
Greg: Is that what they do – squeeze the fish? Or do they cut out the organs where the fat is concentrated?
Sometimes, it’s worse than that. After they fillet the fish, they throw what’s left – the carcass, guts and head – into a big bin that might sit around for a couple weeks. So the fish is rotting, the oil is going rancid. Then they separate the oil – either with solvent or by squeezing, but usually by squeezing. Then they take that separated oil and any fat-soluble toxins it may contain and clean it up with chemical and other harsh processes.
Greg: Do you think there are any good fish oils?
I haven’t seen one yet. When European testing methods, which are 20,000 times more sensitive than those used in North America, are applied, there seem to be no clean fish oils in terms of toxic industrial PCB and dioxins. In terms of processing damage, that is not even measured. Not in Europe, not anywhere. No one wants to talk about the damage done to foods by processing. But processing damage is a much bigger issue in health than most people imagine. With most fish oils they do “molecular distillation” – do you know what that means? They boil the oil.
Greg: So that ruins the n-3, as you just said?
Yes, processing does damage to food, in this case, n-3. In making fish oil, producers may pull a vacuum on the oil, which lowers the temperature required to distill the oil. But they’re still boiling the oil. They call it a “gentle molecular distillation.” It’s not really gentle. Oils boil at frying temperature. Damage done by frying starts at about 160 degrees Celsius, which is 320 degrees Fahrenheit, and goes up exponentially as the temperature rises. The nature of chemical reactions is that for every 10 degree Celsius rise in temperature, the rate of chemical reactions (with oxygen, light, metals) at least doubles, and may even triple or quadruple.
Greg: What about cod liver oil? Is it the same situation?
Cod liver oil is used because even though cod is a low fat fish, its liver contains about 8% fat. In fish, the liver is consistently the fattiest organ. Here’s the problem. Environmental toxins end up in the liver because the liver is the detoxifying organ. We can remove toxins by sweating, but fish don’t sweat. So liver oils tend to be the dirtiest oils due to environmental pollution. You can remove part of these toxins by methods that do damage to the oil molecules, and you can’t get all the toxins out.
Greg: Why hasn’t anyone ever done a big exposé on the fish oils, showing the public how they’re processed and what’s really going on out there? I’m amazed at what you’re saying because these products are all over the health food industry.
I don’t know. Maybe most people don’t want to know. Maybe we feel safer in our dream world. Maybe we prefer to hear good news to bad news. Maybe it’s why we cut off the tongue of the proverbial messenger of bad news. Maybe we care more about convenience (laziness) than we care about life. Maybe health is not all that important to us until it fails. Maybe it’s that few people have examined what quality of life really is and how to improve it. Maybe our standards for ourselves are much lower than we like to admit. Maybe I’m getting much too deep here.
The problem, of course, is that without accurate information, we don’t have choices. Without information, the industries that make PCBs, dioxins, and pesticides cannot be held accountable for the damage they do to health. Without information, legislative changes cannot be made.
I don’t want to just pick on fish oils. What I’ve just said holds true for cooking oils, fried foods, trans fats in hydrogenated products. Trans fats, whose detriment to health is well researched now, are not being taken off the market; they’re just being required on labels by 2006. By that date, they will have been in our diet for 95 years without regulation. If they kill 30,000 Americans every year as Harvard School of Health has (conservatively) estimated, and you do a straight line from that number to 0 deaths in 1911 when they were introduced, they will have killed 1.5 million Americans in those 95 years.
I don’t just want to pick on oils, either. What I’ve just said holds true for our entire processed food supply. Remember that in nature, where life forms and health were developed, everything was fresh, whole, organic, and raw. That’s the standard.
Even steaming, poaching, and boiling food does damage. Minerals are leached and lost unless you drink the cooking water. Part of the more sensitive vitamins is partially destroyed. Vitamins are lost even during transport and storage. Proteins are changed and made harder to digest. A part of the more sensitive amino acids is damaged. The enzymes in food are completely destroyed by cooking. Probiotics are killed.
Obviously, the effect of industrial contamination and processing on health is a large issue in all food categories-milk, meat, vegetables, fruit, and grains. In every trade, there’s almost a silent agreement to withhold information about the processes used in the production of foods. Processing is a huge health issue! Processing can make huge changes to the quality of our foods, especially if the processing is not done with health as its goal. Oil production processing is, in my view, the most dangerous issue, simply because n-3 and n-6 are so prone to being damaged.
Do you know the reason why cancer went from 1 in 30 in 1900 to 1 in 4 today? That’s what – a 750% increase? Do you know that the increase parallels the growth of the oil industry, which began to grow rapidly after about 1900? I believe that the dramatic increase in the rate of cancer is due to the increased consumption of fried food. Researchers wanted to know why the Japanese have one of the lowest cancer rates, but within a few years after moving to San Francisco, their rate of cancer was as high as that of the rest of the US, which has one of the highest rates of cancer.
They knew it wasn’t their genes, because those didn’t change, so it had to be lifestyle and nutrition related. They looked at all the lifestyle and nutrition-related factors, and found that the one that best explained the change was their adoption of the American diet, which includes lots of fried foods. By the way, cancer rates are going up in Japan too, because the Japanese are getting more into the frying habit.
Pam: The frying of the oil doesn’t necessarily create trans fats, does it?
No. Frying does create some trans fats, but not a lot. But frying creates many other toxic molecules, most of which are far more toxic than trans fats.
Pam: Frying destroys antioxidants and enzymes, doesn’t it?
Frying destroys the antioxidants in oils. The enzymes were gone anyway by the pressing as well as the heat used. Enzymes are proteins, so they mostly don’t end up in the oil, but remain in the seedcake. Frying oxidizes oils; the antioxidants are destroyed quite rapidly; phytosterols present in the oil are destroyed; lecithin is damaged. In addition, more cross-linking, cyclization, double bond shifts, fragmentation, and polymerization of oil molecules takes place during frying.