Unfortunately, many of us know someone who recently has had a heart attack. In most instances, doctors have attributed the cause to smoking, eating habits, weight problems, high-cholesterol, or high blood pressure. But a growing number of people, actually half of those who have heart attacks, are experiencing sudden heart attacks without the normal warning signs, shocking doctors and family members who thought they were healthy. Due to the nature of an unexpected heart attack, doctors so far have not been able to study the illness, understand its causes, or properly treat patients. After years of scientific research, this is starting to change. Thanks to a major study conducted in Paris, we may have finally found the significant contributing factor: a fatty acid!
The study shocked the medical community, which expected to find genetics or stress at the root of the problem. But after 35 years of research involving 5,240 middle-aged Parisian men with no known cardiovascular disease, doctors are now shifting their attention to a little non-esterified fatty acid, also known as NEFA. Doctors found that when age, body mass index, heart rate, systolic (or diastolic) blood pressure, tobacco consumption, parental history of myocardial infarction and parental history of sudden death, cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting plasma glucose (or diabetic status) and insulin concentration were simultaneously entered into a matrix that looked at how and why each person died, they found that the fasting plasma NEFA concentration remained an independent risk factor for sudden death. The full study can be found on the American Heart Association’s website at: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/104/7/756.full.
Circulating NEFA concentration in the blood is a factor that deserves added attention. It isn’t just implicated in sudden heart attacks, but there is also growing evidence that it’s implicated in the onset of cancer too! So what exactly are non-esterified fatty acids? In short, NEFAs in the blood are a build-up of excess omega-6 fats in the body, which are caused by eating an overabundance of polyunsaturated fats such as corn, peanut, sunflower, and safflower oils — in other words, virtually every single bottled vegetable oil and processed food you buy in the supermarket. (Note: although members of the medical community might be “shocked” by this information, it would barely elicit a knowing nod from regular readers of this newsletter.)
How do NEFAs cause sudden heart attacks?
Scientists are still trying to find a direct link between the two. One study in rats showed that high levels of NEFAs altered the ATP potassium channels, which means the rats did not have the proper flow of potassium in and out of their heart cells. This is important since the heart is a pump controlled by the exchange of ions through the aforementioned channels, thereby generating electrical signals. Voltage dependence is regulated by the concentration of extra-cellular potassium; as external potassium is raised, the voltage range of the channel opening shifts to more positive voltages. Simply put, heart cells regulate the positive potassium charge with other ions and the result is a heartbeat. Upset the balance and you upset the heartbeat — and NEFAs upset the balance. Also interesting to note, scientists found a correlation between NEFAs, high intra-cellular sodium and calcium levels, which also affect heart rhythms.
Numerous studies in JAMA and the New England Journal of Medicine have shown that a dietary supplement of Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the NEFA concentration in plasma and in cell membranes and suppress fast heart rhythms associated with heart attacks. Bottom line, they found that eating fish and omega-3 fatty acids reduces the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
Wait a minute . . . common sense says we have been eating fatty acids for centuries without sudden heart attacks, why are we having them now?
As I have explained in several previous newsletters, for most of human existence we have eaten foods containing omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid and arachidonic acid) and omega-3 fatty acids (DHA, EPA, and alpha-linolenic acid) in a ratio of about 1:1 to 2:1. Over the last 50 years, however, in the “civilized world” that ratio has changed to 20:1 or 30:1 and in some cases as high as 50:1. Our diets now include huge amounts of highly refined oils that are extracted from plants and used for cooking or in prepared foods. These oils (such as corn oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, and soybean oil) are all high in the omega-6s. As a consequence, we have dramatically decreased our intake of omega-3’s as found primarily in whole grains, beans and other seeds, and seafood — now getting our omega-3’s primarily as the low-content, secondary fatty acid in our highly refined bottled oils, which accounts for the increasing distortion of the fatty acid ratio in our diets. In fact, even the meat that many people eat contributes to this problem. In addition to saturated fat, meat also contains Omega 6- and Omega-3 fatty acids. Grass fed beef maintains those fats in the healthy ratio of 1:1 to 2:1, but grain fed beef (virtually all the beef you buy in the supermarket) takes on the fat ratio of the grain used to fatten it, i.e. 20:1, 30:1, and on up to 50:1.
Commercial processing factors also contribute to the imbalance of omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. For instance, the commercial oils (even our omega-3s) have been heated to high temperatures in the process of refining them and in the process of cooking, thereby reducing their original beneficial compounds. For instance, in all commercial oils, part of the oil refining process is called deodorization, where the oil passes through a series of heaters and the temperature is raised to the level desirable for efficient steam distillation and deodorization, reaching upwards of 200° C, or 450° F. At these temperatures, the fundamental structure of the oil is changed into a different form of fatty acid through a process called isomerization, a form not beneficial to the human body.
As a side note, the high heat also causes a small amount of trans fatty acids to be formed. After the oil has been exposed to steam and filtered, the resulting oil is mostly colorless, odorless, and tasteless — and can last for years in a bottle with no danger of spoilage. On the other hand, it has virtually no connection with the beneficial oil that was originally contained in the seed or coconut, and the omega-3 fatty acids have been destroyed. It is now a “plastic fat” that offers no benefits to the human body. Instead, it is potentially harmful.
You have a choice for heart health
Eating and cooking with processed oil is only one part of the problem; our dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 needs to change. What can we do to protect ourselves from NEFAs and balance our omega ratios?
- Well, first of all, those of you who already follow the guidelines of the Baseline of Health® Program, as detailed in Lessons from the Miracle Doctors, are already covered. (It’s always nice when “new” discoveries merely confirm the validity of what you’re doing.) Anyway, for those of you who haven’t read it, you can download a free copy at free health book page.
And for those who are not on the baseline health program:
- Stop using all plastic fats — that is, all hydrogenated vegetable oils and super-refined vegetable oils. Again, there is a huge difference between highly refined and cold-pressed oils. They are not the same. They behave very differently in the body.
- Stop cooking with high omega-6 oils, such as safflower, sunflower, and corn oil, and shift to olive oil (low temperature), coconut oil (higher temperature), avocado oil (highest temperature), and grass-fed organic butter (in moderation). And if you need to use oil for high-temperature frying or sautéing, use small amounts of refined avocado oil or, if you must, Spectrum Naturals Super Canola oil, which are both heat resistant.
- Eat omega-3 rich foods by eating walnuts, flaxseeds, leaf lettuce, and cold-water fish. I would caution on the amount of fish since most fish is contaminated with mercury and PCBs. One solution is to eat wild salmon from Alaska. You can also take a molecularly distilled fish oil supplement or flax oil capsules. I use ground flaxseed and prefer the seed to the oil because of its beneficial fiber and its higher lignan content, which has anti-cancer and cardiovascular health benefits.
- Make sure you get enough B vitamins including B12, folic acid, and TMG — and methylation supplements such as SAMe.
Another supplement that protects you from NEFA is carnitine. Research shows the carnitine carries fatty acids into the mitochondria of your cells where they are quickly burned for fuel or cell energy. Some doctors recommend 400-500 mg of Acetyl-l-carnitine, three times a day. This can play a role in correcting the imbalance by naturally forcing the body to “burn up” the NEFAs in the bloodstream and use them to “energize” every single cell in your body. As an interesting side note, Acetyl-l-carnitine is found in the Ever Young™ formula I created for Baseline Nutritionals® — and in just the amount doctors are now starting to recommend. (Again, confirmation that if you do it right in the first place, the benefits just keep on rolling in.)
And for overall heart health protection and maximum health benefits, shift from high-glycemic refined-carbohydrates to a more Mediterranean style diet.
And lastly, when it comes to cardiovascular disease in general, always remember that NEFAs are only one aspect of heart disease, and that you should still eat healthy, exercise, and quit smoking. I also recommend proteolytic enzymes, which can help eliminate CICs from the body, reduce overall inflammation, dissolve accumulated plaque, and repair arterial scar tissue.
And what about cholesterol? Well, as they say in New York, “Fugeddaboutit.” If reducing cholesterol levels concerns you, check out my 5/24/04 newsletter, The Cholesterol Myth.
Once again we see that so many of our health problems result from shifting away from the old natural standbys (olive oil, butter, etc.) to the new and improved, last forever (ultra refined, low saturated fat, doctor recommended high omega-6 fatty acid) vegetable oils. Once again, we let medical doctors (who do not study health and nutrition) tell us what to eat to stay healthy — with disastrous results. How many millions of people have died because the medical community and government health agencies have convinced the entire civilized world to consume vast amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids? And now, whoops, they’re changing their minds!! When will we wise up and stop listening? At a certain point, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
You know, Albert Einstein once said that insanity was doing what you’ve always been doing and believing that one day the results will be different. Why do we believe that one day the “health establishment” will actually get “health and nutrition” right? Isn’t it insane behavior to keep listening, believing that one day they will? Maybe it’s time to stop the insanity and just get back to the basics of health.