By Dr. Mercola
Of the more than 7 billion people in the world, a significant number are either overweight or obese. It's true even in countries we commonly think of as underdeveloped or impossibly remote.1 (After all, the "golden arches" can be found in El Salvador, the Czech Republic and even Siberia.)
In fact, the journal Open Heart reported that, based on body mass index (BMI), 1.5 billion people are overweight, and 500 million of them are classified as obese. Worse, it's a growing statistic.
Dr. Artemis Simopoulos, founder of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, a nonprofit educational organization in the District of Columbia, along with Dr. James DiNicolantonio, from Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas, authored the editorial.
Simopoulos asserted that nutritional guidelines focused on calorie intake have "failed miserably over the past 30 years."
"Since 1980 there have been many studies on the causes and management of obesity including behavioural studies, physical activity studies, nutritional studies ranging from high-protein, low-carbohydrate [and] low-fat, high-carbohydrate low-calorie diets and drugs for the treatment of obesity …
Yet despite all these efforts the U.S. population continues to increase its weight and similar situations exist in other countries, both developed and developing.
In developing countries, obesity coexists with undernourished and malnourished individuals. So far, no country has been able to either prevent overweight and obesity or maintain weight loss of its population."2
Their report noted that balancing the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fats may prevent obesity. These fats have been balanced naturally in the human diet for millennia.
The doctors maintain that it's not the disparity between food intake and energy expended that causes obesity; the problem is the way people view what's beneficial as food and what's not.
Obesity: A Worldwide Epidemic
The World Health Organization (WHO) says a condition in which excess body fat is serious enough to impair a person's health is considered obesity, which was declared an epidemic in 1997.3
In 2008, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the obesity epidemic as encompassing about one-third of adults worldwide.4 One study noted:
"The multitude of complications from obesity not only causes human suffering, but also determines the staggering economical costs associated with obesity.
Depending on the mathematical model used to estimate the costs, they range between about 6 percent and 16 percent of total health care expenditures in the U.S. Given the relentlessly increasing prevalence of obesity, these costs are likely to increase."5
The same review noted that obesity:
- Was once a disease associated with wealthy people, but it's now higher among lower socioeconomic and minority groups, such as African-Americans, Hispanics and Native-Americans
- Grew from 5 percent to 15 percent between 1970 and 2000 in regard to the prevalence of obesity in children
- Is seen in more men than women; respectively 41 percent to 28 percent, but women are more apt to be extremely obese
- Is implicated in problems like type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, cancer and early death
Omega-3s and Omega-6s — What's the Difference?
Omega fats are mentioned on many food packages, some touting how many one serving amount contains, but many people don't think about whether they're "3" or "6." What these consumers don't realize is that the difference between omega-3 and omega-6 fats makes all the difference in the world.
These two fat sources should be generally equal in a person's diet. Why? Because balancing omega fats is crucial for the hormones involved in blood sugar stability, nervous system health and appetite suppression.
Further, a balance is needed for unborn babies develop normally, and for breastfeeding babies to gain the nutrition necessary to prevent chronic disease in the future.
But here's what's happened to the way food is consumed: The optimum 1:1 ratio in the intake of these two essential fats has tipped the scale to a drastically altered 16:1 in favor of omega-6s, according to another study authored by Simopoulus, published in Nutrients in March 2016.6
Eating too many omega-6s can precipitate two of the most prevalent health-damaging conditions: multiplied fatty white tissue and chronic inflammation, which are two of the biggest red flags indicating obesity. Negatives of these two alone include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cancer.
Conversely, studies show a connection between the consumption of omega-3 fats and a decrease in fatty tissue development, along with increases in beneficial brown fat and weight loss. Research indicates that certain groups of people tend to have more brown fat than others; namely:
- People who are slender have more brown fat than those who are obese
- Younger people have more brown fat than older people
- Individuals with normal blood sugar levels have more brown fat than those with high blood sugar
Simopoulos and DiNicolantonio believe these are indications that the system has been guided by unenlightened nutritionists for too long, and that the entire food system needs a major overhaul.
Essential Omega-3s: Where They're Found and What They Do
Omega-3 fats are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) known as essential, because they can't be synthesized by your body in amounts sufficient for health. Three of the most important types are:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Sources of ALA include leafy vegetables, walnuts, flaxseed and seed and vegetable oils.
EPA- and DHA-rich foods are fatty fish such as fresh-caught Alaskan salmon, aka sock-eye, fish oil and/or krill oil supplements, or through, as another study explains, "the conversion of ingested alpha-linolenic acid to DHA or EPA, though evidence implies that the conversion rate is low."7
The reason omega-3 fats are important in your diet is because of their numerous and widespread benefits. A few of those include:
- A reduced risk of coronary heart disease8
- Possible prevention and treatment of other heart problems
- A possible decrease in some forms of mental illness9
- Decreased inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis10
- Decreased insulin resistance11
Obesity, Satiety and the Role of Your Brain
One thing it's important to understand is that appetite and how much you feel you need to eat is largely controlled by your brain; specifically, information regarding pH, the size of your stomach (gastric stretch) and how the foods are metabolized are determined not so much by your stomach as it is by your brain, processed in the medulla, hypothalamus, amygdala and thalamus
While the gastrointestinal tract secretes hormones that help control the amount and times food is ingested, "cholecystokinin secretion is a satiety signal for the brain, and gherlin secretion acts on the hypothalamus to stimulate feeding," the study explains. However:
"A key hormone in appetite and metabolism regulation is leptin, which is released from adipose tissue. The amount of leptin in the body is increased by higher fat mass, and decreases with decreased fat mass."
Leptin acts on your hypothalamus to inhibit orexigenic (appetite increasing) effects and activate anorexigenic (appetite decreasing) effects that indicate satiety. People who are obese have high leptin levels and low levels of response to leptin signaling. This is a disorder known as leptin resistance. The short definition for leptin resistance is: You don't know when you're full.
It's easy to assume that people become overweight or obese because they eat too much and get too little exercise, but relatively recent research has shown that it's all intrinsically bound together with sugar intake, as well as grains, which need to be dramatically curtailed, along with bad fats.
One little-known fact is people don't gain large amounts of weight without first becoming leptin resistant. Table sugar is bad enough, but high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in soda and canned fruits, fruit juice, cereals, salad dressings and processed foods of all kinds can be truly devastating to your system. It's metabolized differently and not only prevents your body from burning fat but also stimulates weight gain.
It's imperative that you begin restricting your sugar and fructose consumption. How do you halt this seemingly endless, vicious circle? First of all, check the labels on the foods you buy to avoid purchasing items containing HFCS. For a comprehensive guide that can help, check out the Fructose Overload Infographic. The general rule is to eat no more than 25 grams of fructose per day or 15 grams of fructose per day if you struggle with insulin/leptin resistance.
Further, incorporating the natural sweetener stevia (rather than health-damaging artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose or saccharin) would be a huge upgrade for your glucose index, although if you're overweight you're better off avoiding all sweeteners, including stevia. Beware, because sweeteners are a slippery slope in today's compromised food-manufacturing industry. There's a reason it's a multi-billion-dollar business.
Back to the Garden: How to Incorporate Balance
For millennia, people ate either plant- or animal-based foods that were real and clean (as opposed to relying on drugs to fix their health-damaging diet). It's only been in the last several decades that these basic and necessary foods are being processed within an inch of their lives, often to either prolong shelf life or to involve the least bottom-line cost to manufacturers. The Open Heart editorial commented:
"We now know that major changes have taken place in the food supply over the last 100 years, when food technology and modern agriculture led to enormous production of vegetable oils high in ω-6 fatty acids [omega-6 fats], and changed animal feeds from grass to grains, thus increasing the amount of ω-6 fatty acids at the level of LA (from oils) and arachidonic acid (AA) (from meat, eggs [and] dairy). This led to very high amounts of ω-6 fatty acids in the food supply for the first time in the history of human beings."
The food-manufacturing machine, in compliance with governmental rules alleging its intent to ensure a "healthier" populace, has instead helped make people sicker and fatter.
The study called for a return to higher omega-3 fat content in the food supply and a simultaneous decrease in omega-6s. How? One way is to change your cooking oils (and know the difference) and reduce the glut of CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation] meat from the average diet and replace it with healthy fish or grass-fed meats, which are higher in omega-3.
One interesting point the study authors made was that depending on the people group, fats are metabolized differently, which makes some of them more susceptible to risks associated with excess omega-6s. They wrote:
"The scientific evidence to balance the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is robust and necessary for normal growth and development, prevention and treatment of obesity and its comorbidities including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer."12
The doctors concluded that the balancing act can be put in place if more studies explore how nutrients are metabolized and how genes function.
Consuming Omega-3 Fats Leads to Weight Loss and More
Backed up by more than one study, one of the most compelling points made in the Open Heart article was that omega-3 fats "decrease adipose tissue [another term for fat] development and lead to weight loss."13,14,15 Omega-3s also:
" … Produce lipid mediators — resolvins, protectins and maresins — which are neuroprotective and lead to resolution of inflammation. Furthermore ω-3 fatty acids [omega-3 fats] lead to increased fatty acid oxidation and mitochondrial biogenesis.16
Simopoulus' Nutrients study on the omega-3 and omega-6 ratio explains:
"Mammalian cells cannot convert omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids because they lack the converting enzyme, omega-3 desaturase. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are not interconvertible, are metabolically and functionally distinct and often have important opposing physiological effects, therefore their balance in the diet is important.
When humans ingest fish or fish oil, the EPA and DHA from the diet partially replace the omega-6 fatty acids, especially AA, in the membranes of probably all cells …"17
One study showed that 96 percent of the lung lesions and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) developed from crystalline silica exposure were stopped by omega-3 fat DHA.18 Many people equate omega-3 fats with fish oil, but you should know there are other options (including eating fish such as sardines and anchovies). If you're looking for a supplement form of animal-based omega-3s, however, consider krill oil over fish oil.