Grass Fed Beef Supports Your Mitochondria

organic ground beef

Story at-a-glance -

  • Research has shown dietary stearic acid helps regulate your mitochondria, the energy powerhouse of your cells known to influence your health and longevity
  • In lab studies conducted on genetically altered flies, dietary stearic acid helped the insects resist neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s
  • Grass fed meat, coconut oil and cocoa butter are among the healthiest dietary sources of stearic acid
  • Among other benefits, grass fed beef contains 36 percent more stearic acid than grain-fed beef, making it a better choice to fuel your mitochondria and your overall health

By Dr. Mercola

When it comes to maintaining your health and preventing disease, the important role played by your mitochondria cannot be overstated. If your mitochondria are not functioning well, your health is sure to be suboptimal. Your mitochondria also influence your longevity.

Furthermore, your mitochondrial health has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's. While there are a number of diet-based ways to boost and sustain these vital cellular powerhouses, the stearic acid found in grass fed beef is one of the best.

What Are Mitochondria and Why Do You Need Them?

Mitochondria are important to your health because they are, in simple terms, the powerhouse of your cells. They actually produce about 90 percent of the energy generated in your body.

Because your body is an energy system through and through — in fact, absolutely everything that happens in your body from muscle contractions to cell regeneration requires energy — the health of your mitochondria has a great bearing on your overall well-being.

As stated in the journal Nature, "Mitochondria are involved in a variety of cellular functions, including adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) production, amino acid and lipid biogenesis and breakdown, signaling and apoptosis. Mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases, cancer and aging."1

Given your body's many functions, your mitochondria are continuously being called on to supply energy. Any time you have a decrease in energy production, your bodily systems are affected and may begin to break down.

As mentioned, your mitochondria help coordinate apoptosis, or programmed cell death, which ensures the death and removal of malfunctioning cells that may otherwise survive, multiply and wreak havoc if left unchecked.

In that regard, dysfunctional mitochondria are thought to be the driving force behind chronic diseases like cancer. While not all free radicals are harmful and your body needs some to be healthy, most of the superoxide radicals formed at the level of your mitochondria are harmful. This is why you need to minimize them.

Efficient Fat Burning Can Help Minimize Mitochondrial Damage

The best way to support your body's battle against free-radical damage is to transform it into an efficient fat-burning machine. That was the premise of my book "Fat for Fuel," which details strategies designed to minimize the production of excess, damaging free radicals while maintaining the biologically important ones.

It's becoming increasingly clear the standard American diet, which represents a total divergence from our ancestral diet, is causing the majority of this cellular harm. Specifically, the choice to ingest massive amounts of processed, unnatural foods and excessive amounts of added sugars, industrial fats and net carbs is fueling untold mitochondrial damage.

High-carb, processed food diets prevent your body from efficiently burning fat as its primary fuel. Burning fats and ketones is far more efficient and induces much less oxidative stress than burning carbs.

If you want to optimize your mitochondrial health, you must provide your body with the right fuel. Once you become an efficient fat burner, you will minimize the oxidative stress placed on your mitochondria, thereby improving your overall health.

Dietary Stearic Acid Shown to Help Regulate Your Mitochondria and Resist Neurodegenerative Disease

In a 2018 study published in the journal Nature Communications,2 which builds on earlier work around fatty acid signaling involving stearic acid, researchers sought to discover if the dedicated pathway used by stearic acid to regulate mitofusin activity and mitochondrial morphology and function is able to sense changes in your dietary intake of stearic acid. The study authors noted:3

"We show here that stearic acid ingestion rapidly and robustly causes mitochondrial fusion in people within three hours after ingestion. Stearic acid intake also causes a drop in circulating long-chain acylcarnitines, suggesting increased fatty acid beta-oxidation in vivo.

This work thereby identifies stearic acid as a dietary metabolite that is sensed by our bodies to control our mitochondria."

The researchers went on to note the intake of stearic acid, as compared to other saturated fats found in animals and plants, helps decrease your cardiovascular and cancer risk.4

Research on flies conducted in 2015 by some of the same scientists suggests dietary stearic acid supplementation can help your body resist the mitochondrial dysfunction associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's. The study authors said:5

"We find animal cells are poised to respond to both increases and decreases in stearic acid levels, with increased stearic acid dietary intake boosting mitochondrial fusion …

Intriguingly, dietary stearic acid supplementation can counteract the mitochondrial dysfunction caused by genetic defects such as loss of the Parkinson's disease genes PINK 1 (PTEN-induced putative kinase 1) or Parkin …. This work identifies the metabolite stearic acid as a signaling molecule regulating mitochondrial function in response to diet."

According to Science Daily,6 when the researchers added stearic acid to fly food, the insect's mitochondria fused. In contrast, when dietary fatty acid levels were kept low, the organelles fragmented.

Notably, after ingesting stearic acid with their food, flies exhibiting Parkinson's-like symptoms resulting from a mitochondrial defect in the PINK 1 and Parkin proteins demonstrated improvements in:7

  • Energy balance
  • Motor skills
  • Survival time frames

About the results and the potential importance of stearic acid to human diets, biochemist Aurelio Teleman, Ph.D., professor and division head at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, Germany, stated:8

"If using stearic acid as a food additive improves the performance of normal mitochondria, then it might do the same in pathogenically dysfunctional mitochondria.

This opens up the fascinating possibility of using a food additive to alleviate symptoms in patients with mitochondrial disease. However, … we do not yet know whether human cells [will] respond in the same way as fly cells to increased quantities of stearic acid in the diet."

One of the Best Sources of Stearic Acid Is Grass Fed Beef

Given the outcomes of the ongoing research around stearic acid, it only makes sense to ensure you are consuming healthy amounts of this fatty acid on a regular basis. Grass fed beef, coconut oil and cocoa butter are healthy sources. Stearic acid is a particularly beneficial type of saturated fat given its many nutritional benefits and the fact it is a heart-healthy lipid.

A 2014 analysis9 conducted at the University of Illinois and funded by the Weston A. Price Foundation underscored the health benefits of grass fed beef compared to the grain-fed variety.

The researchers noted although grass fed beef is often promoted as healthy because of a lower saturated fatty acid content, the truth is saturated stearic acid was found to be 36 percent higher in grass fed beef (17.45 percent) versus grain-fed (12.8 percent).

Levels of palmitic acid, which is considered "atherogenic" because some studies have shown it raises your cholesterol levels slightly, were found to be virtually the same in both grass and grain-fed beef samples.

As a result, the study authors commented, "Thus, in equally fatty cuts of beef, there would be a higher content of saturated fatty acids in the grass fed beef. In many traditional diets where the fattiest cuts and the fat itself were sought out, intake of these saturates would likely be considerably higher."10

Other Reasons to Love Grass Fed Beef

Grass fed beef comes from cows allowed to graze on pasture and consume their natural diet of grass. This situation is different from cows raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which are fed a processed diet containing genetically engineered grains, growth-promoting drugs and untold antibiotics.

Notably, about 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are administered to CAFO livestock, which contributes to the alarming rates of antibiotic resistance affecting people worldwide. About 2 million drug-resistant infections occur annually in the U.S., resulting in the deaths of an estimated 23,000 people.11

On the other hand, organic, grass fed beef production enables focused effort and attention being given to smaller herds and individual animals. Strict guidelines are in place to ensure grass fed animals are raised and slaughtered in a drug-free, humane manner.

Because grass fed cows are maintained in healthier conditions, the meat's quality is superior to conventional, grain-fed beef. Because the animals eat a natural diet free of grains, the meat tends to be loaded with more nutrients. Better sanitary conditions ensure grass fed meat is free of harmful pathogens that are common to CAFO cows. Beyond that, grass fed beef contains healthy levels of:

Beta-carotene

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a potential cancer fighter

Minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc

Omega-3 fatty acids and a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats

Vaccenic acid that can be transformed into CLA

Vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin) and E

Did You Know Meat Labeled as 'Product of USA' Actually May Be Sourced From Other Countries?

As highlighted in the video above, you may be buying meat labeled "Product of U.S.A.," only to discover later it was actually sourced from other countries.12 Though this news may be surprising, current U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) labeling laws allow beef to be treated as if it originated in the U.S. even when it is sourced from other countries.

Given the amount of beef imports, this is a serious concern. In 2015, for example, according to Beef2Live,13 the U.S.:

  • Imported 3.37 billion pounds of beef
  • Purchased 87 percent of its total beef imports from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico
  • Acquired beef from 18 countries, including small amounts from Italy, China, Poland and Croatia

Act Today to Help Stop the Mislabeling of Imported Meat in the US

As a way to put an end to these deceptive labeling practices, the Organization for Competitive Markets has teamed up with the American Grassfed Association to file a petition with the USDA designed to ensure only domestic meat products can be labeled "Product of U.S.A." According to American Grassfed:14

"The current policy allows foreign meat to be imported into the U.S. and bear the label 'Product of U.S.A.' if it simply passes through a USDA-inspected plant.

The lack of clarity in this policy allows food companies to skirt the federal law and regulations governing labeling and leads to violations of [the USDA's] own policies and regulations that clearly mandate truthfulness in labeling by prohibiting false or misleading labeling and practices."

Together, we have an opportunity to join our voices with other concerned citizens who want to tell the USDA to stop mislabeling imported meat. Mislabeling is not only a threat to the livelihood of American farmers and ranchers, but also has a substantial bearing on the health and safety of you and me as consumers.

The deadline for submitting your comment is September 17, 2018. Take action today to share your opinion with the USDA by:

Final Thoughts About the Benefits of Eating Grass Fed Beef

The benefits of grass fed beef continue to make news. If you are still holding onto the outdated notion saturated fat from meat products — especially beef — is bad for you, it's time to update your thinking. Grass fed beef is an excellent source for a number of reasons, one of which is stearic acid, a healthy fatty acid known to fuel your mitochondria.

Since your mitochondrial health affects your overall well-being and longevity, you may want to consider eating more grass fed beef. Given the high risk of contamination associated with conventional meat, grass fed meat is the healthiest and safest type of meat you can eat. Stay away from all meat that is grain-fed or grain-finished.

A great first step is to visit your local farmers market to seek out nearby sources for organic, grass fed meat. Alternately, check out the EatWild directory of farms and ranches or inquire at your local health food store or organic market.