America's Hidden Pain & Weight Problem
New findings link the cheapest, most common cooking oils to headaches, obesity, and more
New findings link the cheapest, most common cooking oils to headaches, obesity, and more
A once-obscure crisis in public health is finally getting noticed.
Leading researchers began ringing alarm bells more than a decade ago.
Nowadays, most any credible health book, magazine, or blog stresses the sickening impacts of America's "omega imbalance".
Today, we'll relate recent findings about two under-appreciated risks of America's omega-imbalanced diet.
First, we'll explain the imbalance ... and a related, critically important campaign to correct it as soon as possible.
America's omega-imbalance, in a nutshell
Most of us consume far too many omega-6 fats and far too few omega-3s.
That imbalance triggers chronic inflammation and its dire consequences.
Those consequences range from heart disease, cancer, depression, psychosis, and dementia to arthritis, allergies, anxiety, and autoimmune disorders.
Our nation's omega imbalance flows largely from the huge volumes of cheap vegetable oils we get from packaged, take-out, restaurant, and home-cooked foods.
By "cheap vegetable oils", we mean soy, corn, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed, all of which – except "high-oleic" versions of sunflower oil – run high in omega-6s.
Good choices – ones low in omega-6s – include extra virgin olive oil, macadamia nut oil, flaxseed oil, and coconut oil.
The damage done by that extreme omega-6 overload is deepened by the scarcity of seafood in the average American's diet ... especially lack of fatty, omega-3-rich fish.
Most of the seafood Americans eat is farmed tilapia, catfish, and salmon ... whose omega-3s are neutralized by their unnaturally high levels of omega-6s from the plant foods (grains and soy) in their feed.
For more on that, see Tilapia Taken to Task and Farmed Salmon's Diet Yields Unhealthful Cardiovascular Effects.
Making the omega balance case to doctors, insurers, and employers
The consequences of omega-imbalanced diets are truly dire ... but it's not hard to correct that imbalance.
We first heard about this issue at a 2005 conference, in a speech by renowned biochemist, Professor William E. Lands, PhD.
Dr. Lands recently published a paper designed to educate and recruit health professionals, employers, and insurers.
The paper – "Creating Benefits from Omega-3 Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals” – makes a convincing, compelling, actionable case.
Dr. Lands and his co-author, Catharine Clark, explain the science, provide "balance scores” for common foods, and present a free on-line tool called Omega Meals.
Parts of their paper speak in technical terms, so you can just scan the introduction, and then share the paper with your practitioners, your health insurer, and with management and human resources at your employer.
Dr. Lands' target audience includes many laypersons, and you can refer them to these video and plain-English essays on our website:
- Our Out of Balance video, which features Dr. Lands
- America's Sickening Omega Imbalance, which includes Dr. Lands' bio, and links to key papers
- The Omega-3/6 Balance education page on our website
- The Omega-3 / Omega-6 Balance section of our news archive.
Omega imbalance promotes head pain
There's a good deal of evidence that omega imbalanced diets promote depression and various psychological disorders.
Thanks to two studies from experts in the field, we can add headaches, and the distress they cause, to that list.
Both studies were led by two experts in the field, both based at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Psychiatrist Joseph Hibbeln, M.D., is a leading clinical researcher on omega-3s in mental health and child development, and co-authored a paper with Christopher Ramsden, M.D., that convincingly refuted the American Heart Association position on omega-6 fats.
We reported on their first head-pain study, which showed that diets with a more equal balance between omega-3s and omega-6s helped people with chronic headaches … see in Can Fish Fat Help Headaches?.
The participants in the original clinical trial underwent tests designed to measure quality of life and psychological distress.
Drs. Hibblen and Ramsden recently published a follow-up, in which they analyzed the results of those tests to look for any differences between the two groups (Ramsden CE et al. 2015).
The results of the analysis showed that participants in the High Omega-3 diet group enjoyed significant reductions in psychological distress and significant improvements in their quality of physical and mental health.
As Drs. Hibbeln and Ramsden wrote, "Dietary manipulation of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, previously shown to produce major improvements in headache, was found to also reduce psychological distress and improve HRQOL [health-related quality of life] and function.”.
Do omega imbalanced diets promote weight gain?
Today's epidemic of overweight and obesity may be caused in part by America's extreme the omega imbalance.
We reported on evidence for that in Omega-6 Fats Drive Obesity; Omega-3s Help Avoid It and Omega-3s May Oppose Child Obesity.
Since then, Dr. Hibbeln and Norwegian researchers have provided more evidence that America's omega imbalance may promote weight problem.
Most recently, they divided mice into two groups, both fed low-fat diets.
However, one group's diet was high in omega-6 fats, while the other groups diet was high in omega-3s.
The animals fed the High-Omega-6 diet gained more weight and suffered more metabolic problems than their High-Omega-3 counterparts (Alvheim AR et al. 2014).
The year before, Dr. Hibbeln and the Norwegian team published a similar study involving farmed salmon, and mice fed farmed salmon.
They divided the salmon into two groups that were fed identical diets except that some received added soybean oil (high in omega-6 fats) while the remainder received fish oil high in omega-3s.
The salmon given omega-6-rich soy oil showed higher levels of inflammation, fat in their livers, and weight gain.
The mice were divided into 2 groups, one fed salmon from the soy oil group, and one fed salmon from the fish oil group.
And the mice fed salmon from the soy oil group showed higher levels of inflammation, fat in their livers, and weight gain.
As the authors wrote, "In conclusion, excessive dietary [omega-6] LA … increases weight gain and counteracts the anti-inflammatory properties of [omega-3] EPA and DHA in mice.” (Alvheim AR et al. 2013)
Humans and mice have very similar systems for controlling appetite, inflammation, and fat storage.
And these same undesirable changes in a person would tend to promtoe inflammation and weight gain.
The message seems clear. As Dr. Lands always says, "NIX the 6 while you EAT the 3"!
- Alvheim AR, Malde MK, Osei-Hyiaman D, Lin YH, Pawlosky RJ, Madsen L, Kristiansen K, Frøyland L, Hibbeln JR. Dietary linoleic acid elevates endogenous 2-AG and anandamide and induces obesity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012 Oct;20(10):1984-94. doi: 10.1038/oby.2012.38. Epub 2012 Feb 15.
- Alvheim AR, Torstensen BE, Lin YH, Lillefosse HH, Lock EJ, Madsen L, Frøyland L, Hibbeln JR, Malde MK. Dietary linoleic acid elevates the endocannabinoids 2-AG and anandamide and promotes weight gain in mice fed a low fat diet.
- Alvheim AR, Torstensen BE, Lin YH, Lillefosse HH, Lock EJ, Madsen L, Hibbeln JR, Malde MK. Dietary linoleic acid elevates endogenous 2-arachidonoylglycerol and anandamide in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) and mice, and induces weight gain and inflammation in mice. Br J Nutr. 2013 Apr 28;109(8):1508-17. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512003364. Epub 2012 Aug 10. Lipids. 2014 Jan;49(1):59-69. doi: 10.1007/s11745-013-3842-y. Epub 2013 Oct 1.
- Ramsden CE, Faurot KR, Zamora D, Palsson OS, MacIntosh BA, Gaylord S, Taha AY, Rapoport SI, Hibbeln JR, Davis JM, Mann JD. Targeted alterations in dietary n-3 and n-6 fatty acids improve life functioning and reduce psychological distress among patients with chronic headache: a secondary analysis of a randomized trial. Pain. 2015 Apr;156(4):587-96. doi: 10.1097/01.j.pain.0000460348.84965.47.
- Ramsden CE, Faurot KR, Zamora D, Suchindran CM, Macintosh BA, Gaylord S, Ringel A, Hibbeln JR, Feldstein AE, Mori TA, Barden A, Lynch C, Coble R, Mas E, Palsson O, Barrow DA, Mann JD. Targeted alteration of dietary n-3 and n-6 fatty acids for the treatment of chronic headaches: a randomized trial. Pain. 2013 Nov;154(11):2441-51. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2013.07.028. Epub 2013 Jul 22.
- Taha AY, Cheon Y, Faurot KF, Macintosh B, Majchrzak-Hong SF, Mann JD, Hibbeln JR, Ringel A, Ramsden CE. Dietary omega-6 fatty acid lowering increases bioavailability of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in human plasma lipid pools. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2014 May;90(5):151-7. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2014.02.003. Epub 2014 Feb 24.