The Health and Harm of Fats…
Truly Your Best Friends AND Worst Enemies!
by Dr. Dan Moore, The Natural Vet®
One of the most misunderstood yet most important aspects of health, is Fat! Quite honestly, many health care practitioners don’t even understand just how important fats are. For instance, would you agree that most people have and ARE being told daily that fats are bad for you? Most doctors, the media, the advertisements and pretty much ALL, suggest a low fat diet. I am here to tell you, in my not so humble opinion, that NOTHING COULD BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH! Fats are critical to your health and your animal’s health. You need them and you need lots of them, you just need the right kinds!
Stroke, Heart Attack, and Cardiovascular Patients are all too familiar fat related problems, but as I will explain, these are just the tip of the iceberg! For instance, anyone who is Autistic, has Multiple Sclerosis, Diabetes, Optic Neuritis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome Fibromialgia, Alzheimers, Parkinsens Disease, ALS, depression (manic or other wise), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – ANY neurodegenerative disorder is most likely lacking good fats and overloaded with bad fats. Liver disease, gallbladder, adrenal disease, heavy metals, any infection (chronic or otherwise), and especially Lymes are ultimately a fat problem! As I continue my search, I am quickly coming to realize that even “Aging” itself is DIRECTLY related! In horses, my personal opinion is that EPM, Infertility, Botulism, heavy metal toxicosis, Cushing’s Disease, and certainly the obvious – hypothyroidism, metabolic disorders and insulin resistance are all FAT balance related (certainly the same for pets, too).
For the most part, I believe that the equine field is slightly ahead of human medicine in getting the word out to the public about the need for fats. But unfortunately, I am certain that most high fat diets in horses are only going to contribute more to the overall problem – because as in people, we are feeding our horses the “wrong” fats. Neither Low Fat nor High Fat for people or animals is correct — the RIGHT Fat is the answer!
My mission in this article to explain why fats and how fats are so important. For the fish oil and flax eaters, I will offer this preliminary advice though: Fish Oil and/or Flax are not enough! How do we know which fats to use? For a better understanding let’s look at the body itself.
The Brain is 60% fat – (17-20% omega 3, and about 12% omega 6). The cell membranes that surround blood cells, liver cells are roughly half fat. (The other half is protein by the way!) Neurons, dendrites, synapses – the nerve connections themselves, are fat! Myelin, which insulates nerve fibers, is 76% fat! The obvious question from me is: how can reducing fat in the diet be good for these? It can’t! The need for a good brain I would think is fairly obvious.
Cell membranes are vital because they separate the zillions of cells in the body from the outside world and allow for the exchange of all the bad and good “stuff”. Personally I want my membranes in tip top shape! Because I know there is a lot of “bad stuff” to keep out as well as “good stuff” to get in! Nerve connections, that don’t work, such as the dendrites, neurons and synapses would pretty much be like having a dead battery in your car… you ain’t going nowhere! One final example: it is in the development of myelin that surrounds the nerves. Myelin development is what babies need before they can start to walk. Now if myelin is 76% fat, is it not obvious that fat is critical? Only if one wants to walk!!! Dah… Here’s your sign if you think otherwise!! (Sorry – Couldn’t resist) If such vital structures as these are mainly composed of fat does it not make sense that the fats need replenishing?
Next, to further understand which fats we need, let’s look at the actual membranes which surround each and every cell in the body. The principle fat in membranes is called a phospholipid. Literally each membrane is made up of millions of phospholipids all lined up. Each has a head and two tails. One tail is a saturated fat (straight tail), the other is an unsaturated fat (a crooked tail). Wedged in between is cholesterol. Also a part of each membrane is a glycolipid. Glycolipids are tiny sugar molecules that protect, insulate and again, exchange nutrients. Let’s take a closer look at each of these components and see how each relates.
Cholesterol varies with the type of membrane. For instance, plasma membranes have essentially one cholesterol per phospholipid molecule. Some membranes that need more support may need more, BUT ALL membranes need cholesterol. Cholesterol actually gives the membrane structure plus allows certain things to pass and others not to pass. The problem SOMETIMES with cholesterol is when it “overflows” into the blood stream …..but even in the blood stream, it is sort of like a beneficial band aid FIXING potential leaks in the cell walls of the vessels – putting back the structure to a bad wall. If it breaks loose and causes a clot – yes that is bad (stroke or heart attack)… but saying that high cholesterol is the cause of heart disease as like saying that a lot of police in a high crime district is the cause of the crime… You must have cholesterol! Who said Cholesterol is bad for you? What IS actually bad for you are the bad fats – Cholesterol is not the bad fat!
As I said, the main component of each and every membrane in the body is phospholipids, Lets break down the phospholipid molecule and look at it a little closer. The phospolipid molecule looks like a fish with two tails. It acts kind of like a magnet – the head having one charge and the tails having the opposite. This magnet like component attracts and repels, thus allowing “stuff” both good and bad, in and out through the membrane. One side of the tail, the unsaturated one, actually vibrates moving particles in and out! The saturated tail part is rigid and solid and hardly moves. It is the balance of these two tails that is the most critical to understand. You see it takes both kinds of fats – both saturated and unsaturated to compose the properly maintain structure of the chief component of cell membranes (phospholipids). JUST NOT EATING FAT can lead to problems. I mentioned this concept to friend just the other day. Her comments were that in the office where she worked 7 of the 9 women went on a “low fat craze” several years ago – all seven now have MS! Wow!
Now lets look at one more aspect of fats and membranes, probably the most important! RENEGADE fats, perhaps not a good medical term, but none the less, a word I like to use because it describes these types of fats perfectly.
Why? Because they are bad news to the bone! These are man made fats or particles of fats or mutated fats or jumbled up fats, trans fats, etc. etc.. THESE, my friends, are the killers and these are what we are eating in the typical American diet (especially prevalent in horse and pet foods, too). These REDEGADE FATS can displace the good fats we just discussed. They make the membrane absolutely solid – they don’t move, vibrate, transmit or anything – they just prevent the good from getting in and the bad from getting out! These essentially clog up all membranes and are a major factor in causing disease – essentially any disease! In slight defense of the “low fat craze”, a low fat diet would reduce these renegades, because these are typically what almost all Americans eat – but if the right fats are not added back, then it is certainly a Catch 22 situation – too much bad and not enough good. According to my sources, which are not your typical medical media propaganda, almost all degenerative neurological situations are fat related! AND almost all of the diseases mentioned thus far can be helped by burning the bad fats and flooding the body with the good fats – including phospholipids. This knowledge is not new ladies and gentlemen – I found books from back in the 70’s discussing this very issue – not in quite so much depth but the CONCEPT of good and bad fats has been around a long time.
The difficulty is that the American Food Industry processes almost all of the foods we eat. PROCESSED FATS AND OILS ARE DEADLY. This includes most bread, most crackers, cookies, margarine, cooking oils, etc. etc. – If it says hydrogenated, refined or processed on the label – don’t eat it! My Grandmother ate bacon, eggs, real butter and whole milk every day. Most likely so did yours, (but not processed, refined fats and oils) and she lived well into her 80’s. I believe we can too. Science has not really discovered yet the correct balance of these Omega Fatty Acids (essential fatty acids or EFA’s). Most doctors so far are just suggesting fish oil and/or flax (omega 3) – which are helpful – but I believe we are forgetting the other omegas – even omega 6 and especially omega 9. AND I know most have totally forgotten or not yet aware of the phospholipids – which are absolutely critical. By the way, one of the best sources of phospholipids and Omega Fatty Acids are CRUDE UNREFINED soybeans. Coconut is a great source of Omega 9 – and coconut even contains high amounts of Lauric acid – shown to be both antibacterial and antiviral!
One quick note on horse and pet feed is the difficulty in preserving fats in the feed – which is often why so many feeds contain these renegade processed fats – they withstand heat that feeds are exposed to better, but honestly are like feeding plastic to your horse! Typical vegetable and corn oil sources are refined, processed and just plain bad for you, your pet or your horse!
Thus far we have discussed cholesterol, phospholipids, saturated and unsaturated fatty acids and briefly discussed omega fatty acids but have yet to mention the glycolypids present in cell membranes. Essentially these are very simple sugars and though they are being studied extensively, little is known about them except that they protect, insulate and help exchange nutrients. Some studies are already showing that they may actually help modulate or regulate the immune system. Examples of such glycolipids are mannins such as mannose, oligosaccarides, agrabinogalactan. I have no doubt that they are extremely important because I am seeing the clinical results in both animals and man by using them. Some examples of potential benefits thus far seen are help with gut problems, such as chronic or acute diarrhea, and even allergies. Major universities have even demonstrated by experimentation an increase in Natural Killer Cells, which help fight cancer cells, and activation of what is called the compliment system, which is what is activated when foreign substances invade the body – thus making them essentially antiviral and antibacterial. One lab demonstrated Arabinogalactan (which comes fro the Western Larch Tree) to be even more beneficial than Echinacea and especially better with long-term usage.
Finally it is hard to discuss fats without at least mentioning anti-oxidants. THEY are critical, too, for many reasons but especially important regarding fats. When fats rot or go rancid they are essentially worse than anything. The reason the food industry even processes fats and oils to begin with is so that they are more stable and less likely to go rancid – we now know this is not good, right? But as we use more good fats (less processed as I suggest) there is a greater chance of rancidity – because they are less stable (perhaps I should say LESS LIKE PLASTIC). These must be counterbalanced with anti-oxidants. THE PRIMARY ROLE OF ANTI-OXIDANTS IN THE BODY IS TO STABILIZE FATS! Oxidation could be described as rusting. Anti “Oxidation” is to help prevent the rusting within the body. Every animal, including man needs anti-oxidants daily. Just like a piece of metal left in the environment will rust, so will our bodies if they are not protected. Anti-oxidants are like “Rustoleum” for the body – critical for long term protection.
I hope it is becoming more and more clear that simply eating “low fat” and less cholesterol (much less cholesterol lowering drugs) is just not the answer. Essential fatty acids, phospholipids, glycolipids and anti-oxidants are a critical parts of anyone's (or animal’s) health plan. I wish I had the TOTAL answer for you and I do certainly promise to keep searching. In the mean time, avoid processed food (renegade fats, hydrogenated, refined) as much as possible. Do consider an essential fatty acid supplement (but not just fish oil or flax). Always take anti-oxidants yourself and give your pets and horses anti-oxidant supplements, too. Start each and every day with 25 grams or so of high quality protein (a whole other nutrition lesson!) and consider a phospholipid supplement as well.
Dr. Dan Moore [DVM]