Understanding Fatty Acids in the Modern Diet Sheds Light on How to Avoid Sickness.
To most of us, the idea that someone can have a healthy diet by eating large amounts of fat and minimal levels of fruits or vegetables sounds farfetched. Yet, there is a strong historical precedent for such a diet not only existing, but also for being linked to exceptionally positive results.
More Meat, Less Vegetables = Heart Health?
The clearest historical example of such a diet comes from the Intuit tribe, otherwise known as the West Greenland Eskimos, who consumed huge amounts of meat and almost no fruits or vegetables. The meat which they ate came primarily from cold-water marine animals such as whales, seals and walruses, all of which have very high levels of fat. Nonetheless, when compared to their Danish counterparts who subsisted on a Western diet, their rate of heart disease was remarkably low.
The Inuit Paradox
This phenomenon, revealed in the 1970s, become known as the “Inuit Paradox”, and scientists began concentrating on the secret ingredient contained in the fatty meats consumed by the West Greenland Eskimos. Forward-thinking scientists hoped that the Inuit diet could lead to a major breakthrough in cardiovascular health for the developed world. Dr Jorn Dyerberg nominated the secret ingredient as Omega 3 EPA/DHA, found in high quantities in whale blubber and other marine-sourced meats consumed by the Inuits. In a nutshell, the Omega 3 industry was launched with very high expectations.
Since then, the Western world’s interest in fatty acids has shot up, particularly in regard to the importance of Omega 3 EPA/DHA. As recently as 2004, the industry scored a big win by highlighting the importance of a diet with balanced levels of Omega 3 & 6, with the qualified claim that “supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA (omega-3) fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
An Industry is Born
The importance of Dr. Jorn Dyerberg’s intuition—that Omega 3 EPA/DHA must be found in high quantities in whale blubber and other marine life consumed by the Intuit tribe—has fueled a $50 billion dollar Omega 3 industry, and has revolutionized the way we think about cardiovascular health.
All of the excitement around improving cardiovascular health ran into a little problem when it was discovered that there were actually some negative side effects as well. For one, Omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated and can go rancid quickly. Moreover, many fish oils are of dubious origins and contain mercury and PCBs, which can cause the body a great deal of harm. And many of the pharmaceutical grade Omega-3’s aren’t providing the level of benefits that were expected.
Reviewing the Scientific Data
New research supports that the marine life consumed in the Inuit diet also contained high levels of Omega 7 (palmitoleic acid), actually up to 16%. Omega 7 fatty acids are known for their significant anti-inflammatory effects. Additionally, we now know that Omega 7 is known to lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing good HDL cholesterol levels.
Maybe there’s no paradox at all.
Was the secret of the Inuit hidden in the makeup of the Omega 7 in palmitoleic acid in their diets, or a healthy combination of Omega 3 and Omega 7?