What Fats Do, and Why You Should Eat More!

Fats have a bad name, but why?

Dr. Ancel Keys was an American scientist who studied the impact of diet on health. Dr. Keys’ study, “The Seven Countries Study,” showed a strong statistical relationship between fat consumed and incidence of cardio-vascular disease in the United States and 6 other countries in Europe. The American Heart Association as a result made a public service announcement encouraging the American people to avoid eating fats. It was later discovered that the study originally included 22 countries, not only 7, and that Keys had thrown out the conflicting results. In other words, his hypothesis did not hold water in the remaining 15 countries originally studied. However, the damage was done, and ever since, the American public has been convinced that a diet high in vegetable oils and grains and low in fat was the only way to avoid heart disease. In the following article, we will describe what fats actually do, how they serve our bodies, and how you can develop a healthy relationship with fat that works for your body.

What does fat actually do?

-          Building block for cell membranes.

-          Main composition for our brains, nerves, and reproductive hormones.

-          Key contributor to strong memory.

-          Key source of energy.

-          Stabilizes insulin and glucose metabolism.

-          Prevents us from overeating. It is physically impossible to overeat fat. Sugar and carbs, yes, but not fat.

What happens without fat?

-          Without the right ratios of each type of fat, or without enough fat, there are serious health implications.

What kinds of fats are there?

Saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.

What do those names mean?

This is a bit of biochemistry. It is important to understand what makes each type of fat different.  They indicate how many, if any, double bonds exist in a given fat. Chemically, all fats are triglycerides, meaning they contain a glycerol and any of several different kinds of fatty acids. Therefore, the fats are differentiated by the fatty acids which they are made from. Fatty acids are composed of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Long chains of carbon and hydrogen raise the melting point of the fat, and also yield greater energy per molecule when metabolized. Saturated fat means that every carbon in the chain has a hydrogen pair. Unsaturated fats contain double bonds within the carbon chain, meaning the carbons bond to each other, rather than a hydrogen atom. Polyunsaturated fats are triglycerides in which the fatty acid chains contain more than a single carbon-carbon bond.

Saturated fats and unsaturated fats differ in melting point and energy yield. Unsaturated fats provide less energy because they have fewer carbon-hydrogen bonds. Saturated fats can stack themselves neatly because of the carbon-hydrogen pairing, and therefore freeze more easily. This is why at room temperature saturated fats tend to remain solid, while unsaturated fats are liquid.

3 Characteristics of Fat

1.Inert and stable: Solid at room temperature. For example, coconut oil, which is a short-chain saturated fat that rarely becomes rancid, even if exposed to air for years and years.

2. Liquid and easily oxidized: Linseed oil, a polyunsaturated fat, goes bad quickly.

3. The middle of the pack: Monounsaturated fats fall somewhere in the middle between saturated fats and polyunsaturated fats in terms of how quickly they go bad, and how inert they are at room temperature.

What Fats do What?

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats have suffered a pretty terrible reputation the past few years. In fact, they were singled out as the cause of cardio-vascular disease (CVD). Researchers have even linked them to things from cancer to neuro-degeneration to other autoimmune disorders. The truth is that saturated fats are actually quite helpful when consumed within reason. If we make sure to keep our saturated fat and carbohydrate intake within the levels consumed by our ancestors, it is unlikely that you will develop CVD.

-          Lauric Acid. Found in coconut, palm oil, and human breast milk. Boasts antiviral properties including fighting against HIV and chicken pox. It also helps heal the gut.

-          Palmitic Acid. Found in palm oil, beef, eggs, milk, poultry, and seafood, among other animal products. Palmitic Acid helps to optimize cognitive function by helping us to make new memories and store the old. However, among the saturated fats, Palmitic does actually pose the greatest risk for CVD.

-          Stearic Acid. Found in meat, eggs, and chocolate. Stearic Acid helps to decrease systemic inflammation. 

Monounsaturated Fats

Though there are many monounsaturated fats, the only that is important to discuss for the purposes of this paper is oleic acid. Monounsaturated fats were the primary fat in our ancestral diet, so eating plenty of it will help us to enhance physical performance.

-          Oleic Acid. Found in plant sources such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and even some grass-fed meat. Boosts insulin sensitivity, improves glucagon response, and decreases cholesterol levels. 

Polyunsaturated Fats

These fats could be called “the essential fats,” since we absolutely cannot make them and must get them from our diet. Without them, our bodies suffer. Our current lack of sufficient polyunsaturated fat represents one of the worst consequences of our heavily processed modern diet. We will look at two subfamilies of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) called omega-3 (abbreviated as n-3) and omega-6 (abbreviated as n-6). In general, n-3/n-6 are good for us, and found in grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish. However, n-3/n-6’s can be unhealthy when eaten out-of-balance. For example, our ancestors ate 1:1 ratios of n-3 to n-6. Our ratios of consumption today are around 1:10. Why? We eat way too much corn, soy, safflower, and vegetable oils, the source of much of our n-6 fats. This imbalance is the cause of many health-related issues.

1. Omega-3 (n-3)

-          Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA). Found in flax, hemp, and other plant sources. It supports enhanced performance, health, and longevity, but doesn’t deliver the nutritional punch that other n-3’s do.

-          Eicosapentaenoci Acid (EPA). Found in fish oil and human breast milk. EPA is a strong anti-inflammatory, helps to thin the blood, and blocks the growth of new blood vessels thereby preventing the spread of cancer. EPA is really good for us!

-          Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). Found in cold-water oceanic fish, this fat is critical for fetal brain development and cognitive function throughout our lives. Low levels of DHA are detrimental both for the unborn fetus, and the mother. With low DHA levels, women more frequently suffer preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and postpartum depression. DHA also boasts antitumor and anti-inflammatory capabilities. 

2. Omega-6 (n-6)

-          Linoleic Acid (LA). Found in vegetable oils such as safflower and sunflower. LA can actually cause inflammation and block the inflammatory powers of n-3 fats such as EPA and DHA. It’s not very good for us!

-          Gamma Linolenic Acid. Found in borage, primrose, and hemp oils. GLA can act as an anti-inflammatory agent.

-          Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid. DGLA is made in the body by the elongation of GLA, and very rarely traces of it are found in animal products. DGLA regulates the production of several molecular messengers that support immune function, increase inflammation, and monitor the body’s experience of pain.

-          Arachidonic Acid (AA). Found predominantly in animal products, AA regulates metabolic functions and is critical for our adaptation to exercise, muscle repair, and general brain function. AA is vital to life, but can lead to excessive inflammation if over-consumed.

Fats that we should never, ever eat.

-          Trans fat. Found in nothing our ancestors ate, ever. In fact, they’ve only existed for about 50 years. Exposing polyunsaturated fats to hydrogen gas creates trans fats, which look and act similar to saturated fats. However, trans fats have some serious flaws. They destroy liver function, ruin blood lipids, and undo our insulin sensitivity. Thankfully, trans fats are being phased out. Now even the FDA is calling for an eventual ban. 

Eat Fat: How Much, What Type, and How You’ll Feel

Now that we’ve described most of the fats we encounter in our lives at great length, we will discuss how to eat it and what the effects on your body will be.

1. How much?

While some medical practitioners have staked their careers on telling people to eat as little of fat as possible, it seems that fat intake actually has little bearing on health, disease, and even weight! The best course of action is to find what works for you through experimentation or discussing with an appropriate health practitioner.

2. What type?

-          Saturated fat is no longer the big bad wolf ready to blow down your house, or blow out your heart. The ancestral diet included 10-15% of calories from saturated fats, unless the population lived in areas near coconut, in which case the population may have eaten up to 40% of its’ calories from saturated fats such as Lauric Acid.

-          Our ancestors also tended to avoid eating much Palmitic Acid, which is a huge indicator in increasing LDL cholesterol.

-          Balanced n-3:n-6 ratios. Since omega-3’s tend to decrease inflammation and omega-6’s increase it, the fact that our ancestors ate about an equal amount of both meant that our bodies remained in balance. Our current diet skews heavily in favor of consuming omega-6’s, leading to increased inflammation throughout the body. To balance this out, eat grass-fed and wild-caught fish, and supplement with fish oil. Try to avoid most seed and grain oils, as well.

-          Coconut Oil improves heart health, boosts metabolism, promote weight loss, supports the immune system and even helps our skin look young when applied topically!

3. How will I feel and look?

Eating good, healthy fats suited to your bodies needs will help you lose fat, gain muscle, and feel amazing.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.

A Cure for the Allergy Epidemic

Allergies are often seen as an accident. Your immune system misinterprets a harmless protein like dust or peanuts as a threat, and when you encounter it, you pay the price with sneezing, wheezing, and in the worst cases, death.

What prompts some immune systems to err like this, while others never do? Some of the vulnerability is surely genetic. But comparative studies highlight the importance of environment, beginning, it seems, in the womb. Microbes are one intriguing protective factor. Certain ones seem to stimulate a mother’s immune system during pregnancy, preventing allergic disease in children.

By emulating this naturally occurring phenomenon, scientists may one day devise a way to prevent allergies.

This task, though still in its infancy, has some urgency. Depending on the study and population, the prevalence of allergic disease and asthma increased between two- and threefold in the late 20th century, a mysterious trend often called the “allergy epidemic.”

These days, one in five American children have a respiratory allergy like hay fever, and nearly one in 10 have asthma.

Nine people die daily from asthma attacks. While the increase in respiratory allergies shows some signs of leveling off, the prevalence of food and skin allergies continues to rise. Five percent of children are allergic to peanuts, milk and other foods, half again as many as 15 years ago. And each new generation seems to have more severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reactions than the last.

Some time ago, I visited a place where seemingly protective microbes occurred spontaneously. It wasn’t a spotless laboratory in some university somewhere. It was a manure-spattered cowshed in Indiana’s Amish country.

My guide was Mark Holbreich, an allergist in Indianapolis. He’d recently discovered that the Amish people who lived in the northern part of the state were remarkably free of allergies and asthma.

About half of Americans have evidence of allergic sensitization, which increases the risk of allergic disease. But judging from skin-prick tests, just 7.2 percent of the 138 Amish children who Dr. Holbreich tested were sensitized to tree pollens and other allergens. That yawning difference positions the Indiana Amish among the least allergic populations ever described in the developed world.

This invulnerability isn’t likely to be genetic. The Amish originally came to the United States from the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and these days Swiss children, a genetically similar population, are about as allergic as Americans.

Ninety-two percent of the Amish children Dr. Holbreich tested either lived on farms or visited one frequently. Farming, Dr. Holbreich thinks, is the Amish secret. This idea has some history. Since the late 1990s, European scientists have investigated what they call the “farm effect.”

The working hypothesis is that innocuous cowshed microbes, plant material and raw milk protect farming children by favorably stimulating their immune systems throughout life, particularly early on. That spring morning, Dr. Holbreich gave me a tour of the bonanza of immune stimuli under consideration.

We found our hosts, Andrew Mast and his wife, Laura, hard at work milking cows in the predawn chill.

Dr. Holbreich, slight and bespectacled, peppered them with questions. At what age did Mr. Mast begin working in the cowshed? “My first memory is of milking,” he said, at about the age of 5. What about his children, two straw-haired girls, then ages 2 and 3; did they spend time in the cowshed? The elder girl came to the barn at 3 months of age, he said. “People learn to walk in here.” Do expectant mothers work in the barn? “Yes,” Laura said. “We work.”

Dr. Holbreich had made his point: whatever forces were acting here, they were chronic, and they began before birth. As the sun rose, Dr. Holbreich and I sniffed the damp, fermented feed (slightly malty); shoveled fresh cow manure (“Liquid gold,” Dr. Holbreich said only half-jokingly, “the best medicine you could think of”); and marveled at the detritus floating in the air. Extrapolating from previous research, with each breath we were inhaling perhaps 1,000 times more microbes than usual. By breakfast time, grime had collected under our nails, hay clung to our clothes, and muck to our boots. “There’s got to be bacteria, mold and plant material,” Dr. Holbreich said. “You do this every day for 30 years, 365 days a year, you can see there are so many exposures.”

The challenge of identifying the important exposures — and getting them into a bottle — is a pressing one. In parts of the developing world, where allergic disease was once considered rare, scientists have noted an uptick, especially in urban areas. China offers a dramatic case in point. A 2009 study found a more than threefold difference in allergic sensitization (as judged by skin-prick tests) between schoolchildren in rural areas around Beijing and children in the city proper. Doctor-diagnosed asthma differed sixfold. Maybe not coincidentally, 40 percent of the rural children had lived on farms their whole lives.

Immigrants from the developing world to the developed tend to be less allergic than average. But the longer they reside in their adopted countries, the more allergic they become. And their native-born children seem to gain the vulnerability to asthma, sometimes surpassing it. All of which highlights a longstanding question in the allergy field. As Dr. Holbreich puts it, “What is it about westernization that makes people allergic?”

When hay fever first emerged as a common complaint among the upper classes of Britain in the 19th century — and became a badge of refinement — farmers, who were exposed to more pollen than probably anyone else, seemed relatively invulnerable to the new affliction. In the 1990s, European scientists rediscovered the phenomenon in the small alpine farms of Switzerland. A bevy of studies followed, comprising thousands of subjects across Switzerland, Germany, Austria and elsewhere. Critically, by comparing children living in the same rural areas, scientists could discount urban pollution. Everyone was breathing the same country air.

And earlier this year, some of Dr. Holbreich’s collaborators, from the University of Basel in Switzerland, made a strong case that physical activity couldn’t explain the disparity either. They had rural children wear devices that measured movement for a week. There was little difference in physical activity between farming and nonfarming children. 

What matters then? Erika von Mutius, a doctor and epidemiologist at Munich University in Germany who has led much of this research, suspects diversity is important. Farms with the greatest array of microbes, including fungi, appear to be the most protective against asthma. At the Mast farm, the cowshed wasn’t more than 60 feet from the house. In Europe, scientists found that microbes waft from cowsheds into homes.

In one study, they showed that an infant’s risk of eczema was inverse to the microbial load in her mother’s mattress.

Timing seems to matter tremendously. The earlier exposure begins, it seems, the greater the protection — and that includes during pregnancy. Children born to mothers who work with livestock while pregnant, and who lug their newborns along during chores, seem the most invulnerable to allergic disease later.

Here, the farm effect dovetails with the burgeoning science on the prenatal origins of disease generally. What happens to your mother during the nine months before your birth may affect your vulnerability to many diseases decades later, from heart disease and obesity to schizophrenia.

Allergies and asthma seem to follow the rule as well.

Susan Prescott, a doctor and researcher at the University of Western Australia in Perth, has noted differences in the placentas of children who later develop allergies. A critical subset of white blood cells — called regulatory T-cells — seems relatively scarce at birth. Rather than enabling aggression, these cells help the immune system restrain itself when facing substances that are not true threats. A healthy population of these and other “suppressor” cells is important, scientists now suspect, in preventing allergies and asthma. So it seems significant that European farming children are born with a comparative surfeit of these cells. Bianca Schaub, a doctor and researcher at Munich University, has found that farming newborns have more regulatory T-cells in cord blood than babies of nonfarmers. In test tubes, these cells more effectively quash allergic-type reactions. And that suppressive ability increases with the number of different types of animals the mother tended while pregnant. The more cows, pigs and chickens a mother encounters, essentially, the more easily her offspring may tolerate dust mites and tree pollens.

Animal studies demonstrate how this might work. Some years back, scientists at Philipps University of Marburg in Germany sprayed pregnant mice with microbes originally isolated from Bavarian cowsheds. The exposure induced favorable changes in gene expression at the placenta. The pups born to these mice were protected against asthma.

This research suggests that farming mothers might benefit from a naturally occurring immunotherapy, one that preprograms the developing fetus against allergic disease. Yet how to apply that therapy deliberately remains unclear. Is “microbial pressure” what matters — a stiff microbial wind in our sails? Or do certain cowshed microbes actually colonize farmers, and favorably calibrate their immune function?

There’s evidence to support both explanations, which aren’t mutually exclusive anyway.

Before you rush to the nearest farm, however, a word of caution. Some studies indicate that if you grow up in an urban environment, occasional visits to the farm may exacerbate allergic propensities. If you haven’t matured with abundant microbial stimulation, the thinking goes, encountering it intermittently may push you into overdrive, prompting the misery you seek to avoid.

And yet, a prospective study from Denmark published this month suggests that it’s never too late. Young adults who began farming (with livestock) were less likely to develop new allergic sensitivities than rural peers who chose other professions. Existing allergies didn’t disappear. Rather, the farming environment seemed to prevent new sensitizations.

Which brings us to farm milk. In Europe, the consumption of unpasteurized milk has repeatedly correlated with protection against allergic disease. In America, 80 percent of the Amish studied by Dr. Holbreich consume raw milk. In a study published earlier this year, Dr. Schaub’s group showed that European children who consumed farm milk had more of those regulatory T-cells, irrespective of whether they lived on farms. The higher the quantity of those cells, the less likely these children were to be given diagnoses of asthma. Here, finally, is something concrete to take off the farm.

None of these scientists recommend that people consume raw milk; it can carry deadly pathogens. Rather, they hope to identify what’s protective in the milk and either extract it or preserve the ingredients during processing. Microbes may not be the key ingredient in this case. Instead, farm milk may act as a prebiotic — selectively feeding good microbes within. Another possibility is that as with human breast milk, antibodies and immune-signaling proteins in cow’s milk influence the human immune system, steering it toward tolerance.

As a whole, this research reframes the question of what prompted the late 20th-century allergy epidemic. Is the problem one of exposure to allergens, many of which aren’t exactly new to human experience? Or is the problem one of increasing sensitivity to whatever allergens are present?

The science suggests the latter. The Mast cowshed, with its rich array of microbial stimuli, probably resembles the world in which the human immune system evolved more than, say, an apartment high above Manhattan. The Amish in Indiana, who for reasons of religious faith have maintained a 19th-century-like lifestyle, may not be less allergic. Rather, during the dramatic reordering of human existence that began with the Industrial Revolution, everyone else may have become more allergic. Immunologically speaking, the farming Amish and farmers generally may more closely resemble an evolutionary norm for our species.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/opinion/sunday/a-cure-for-the-allergy-epidemic.html?emc=eta1

Digestive Health Ann Arbor now offers a complete Metabolic Health Assessment.  It is extremely comprehensive and provides considerably more information about the current state of your health then most doctors will provide.  If you are interested in a very detailed assessment of your health, please click here for more information. (This assessment is covered by your health insurance).

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.