This week Philip Booth of My Unexpected Guide; learning from cancer discusses the mystery of fats and oils…
Wow, this is an area that I have found so hard to understand and not sure this blog will shed much more light on it. Indeed whether it be margarine, butter, coconut or olive oil we have been told at various times they are bad and good for us. There are whole books dedicated to this topic….there is so much conflicting information out there – well isn’t that true for lots of this health stuff! Anyway, where to begin?
Well, last week I had the results of a comprehensive blood test with my integrative doctor looking at my ‘Ethythrocyte Essential Fatty Acids’. It gave numbers for a bewildering thirty plus different Fatty Acids. On top of that there seem to be so many generalisations about saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, but each fat is unique and I understand that even the smallest variation can have significant effects in the body.
I’ve learnt that prostate cancer likes fat as well as sugar (see previous blog with Jane McLelland here). Last year research confirmed that fat contained within the Western diet, in combination with genetic factors, can cause prostate cancer tumors to spread (i). Previously there had also been research showing saturated fat, Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and Eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA) intakes were related to the risk of advanced or fatal prostate cancer, but not to non-advanced prostate cancer (ii). However there are still some significant question marks over the research. For example could those saturated fats contain more pesticides – and what do we mean by ‘fats’ in the research. Nevertheless some scientists argue that diets high in omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3 fatty acids may be associated with the increased prevalence of chronic diseases, like certain cancers.
Dr Geo Espinosa (iii) for example writes: “There is no conclusive association between eating fat, including saturated fat and prostate cancer. However, there are two possible exceptions, too much Omega 6-fatty acids and consumption of trans-fatty acids. Omega 6 fats are good for the body but only when in the balance with Omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in the standard American (heart attack) diet is 20 or 30:1, omega 6 to omega 3. The healthier ratio is 2 or 1:1, respectively.”
I like how Chris Woollams of CANCER Active (iv) summarises it: “Omega-3 is far more beneficial than 6 and 9. And the omega-3 from fish has completely different benefits (anti-inflammatory, longevity, brain health, cachexia minimisation) to that of flaxseed (toxin elimination, antioxidant, anti-oestrogen). And there is little conversion between the two – you need to eat both.”
Interestingly my Omega 6 was the higher end of normal and my omega 3 was the lower end of normal. This is one area I can clearly take action; the suggestion being to balance this is by having 2gms of Cleanmarine supplement per day and increase eating walnuts and pumpkin seeds. I’ve already started this. It is also worth noting I am avoiding fish oils as there are a lot of mixed messages about them even particularly the cheaper ones. Update 19.02.19: See useful discussion re fats and prostate cancer here. Update 7.3.19: See great talk by Dr Mason about saturated fats and Omega 3 here (it is the third film in the article – not cancer specific so doesn’t take account of issues noted above but nevertheless improved my understanding of this issue).
Two mysteries and two delights
There were a couple of other mysteries in my results. One was raised levels of trans-fats. These are the partially hydrogenated oils; basically an industrially created unsaturated fat. Since trans structured fats are unnatural, eating them causes chaos in the body including hardening of blood vessels and increased inflammation. I’ve looked several times at what I am eating and can find no foods with trans fats. Update 18.02.19: talking with an integrative doctor I hear that cooking olive oil can change the fat and could be responsible for this change? I rarely fry with olive oil but certainly have done.
The second mystery was that my Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) reading was low and should indicate a low Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) reading and it didn’t? Of course blood cells live for around 120 days so could this reading have something left over from a while ago? I don’t think so.
In my recent NHS blood tests I was delighted to see my cholesterol level, that in previous years had been just over the top end of normal, had come down (note cholestrol is not all bad). I was also delighted to see my triglyceride levels were at the lower end of normal. Chris Woollams writes (v): “A number of studies have shown that high levels of triglycerides in the blood are linked to lower survival times. We have covered research, for example, on the link between blood triglyceride levels and prostate cancer resurgence. Some oncologists in London have already been using complementary treatment statins in small doses to reduce plasma levels of bad fats.” This of course links again to Jane McLelland work re starving cancer.
Stearic and oleic acid
Another area of interest in my blood test results was the relation between stearic and oleic acid. The body converts excess stearic acid to oleic acid. In fact it can also convert the other way; the body has its own ideas about the various fatty acids it needs, and can create most of them. The exceptions are the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, mentioned above, where we do have control.
It is argued by some scientists that in many cancers, the ratio of oleic:stearic acid increases with the severity of the cancer (vi). This seems to indicate that oleic acid is not a useful addition to the diet when one has prostate cancer; it can help make blood cells pliable but in that process could help cancer cells migrate. Some research from 1990 concluded (vii): ‘The red cell membrane stearic acid to oleic acid ratio was analysed in 34 men with histologically proven carcinoma of the prostate and distant metastases. This ratio was expressed as the saturation index (SI). A mean SI of 0.97 was found in control patients without evidence of any malignancy whereas all patients with advanced prostatic cancer showed a reduced stearic to oleic acid ratio (mean SI 0.466). Untreated patients had a significantly lower SI (mean 0.36) than those who had responded to hormonal therapy (mean 0.547; P less than 0.0001). A drop in SI correlated well with more advanced disease as judged by radiological findings and serum PSA. It is suggested that red cell membrane SI correlates well with radiological and biochemical markers of advanced prostatic carcinoma and may be used as a marker to assess progress and response to treatment.’
Calculating my SI meant taking the stearic acid result and dividing it by the oleic acid ie in my case 0.87; but how much store should I place in this? Confusion for me multiplied when I realised that oleic acid is found in wonderful oils like olive oil, extolled for its health-giving properties and in less good oils like the vegetable oils. While stearic acid is a fat found in red meat and has been vilified for many years. Before I panicked it is also argued that an oleic-dominant ratio is seemingly an artifact of the cancer and probably unrelated to diet.
So I will continue with some minimal olive oil, add more omega 3, maybe very occasionally have a bit of butter from grass-fed cattle and place my trust in the research that shows a Rainbow (viii) or Mediterranean Diet (ix) can play a key role in tackling cancer. More of my nutrition in another blog.
To finish I wanted to look at coconut oil as it was once feted as an oil to include in diets and is also a key oil in the Keto Diets that claim to help tackle cancer (x). Well more on Keto in another post but alot of what I’ve read to date raises concerns for me about that approach for prostate cancer (although there maybe some exceptions depending on the type of Keto Diet). Anyway June 2017 saw a report saying coconut oil increases LDL, or “bad” cholesterol – but the news was confusing as it also can raise HDL, or “good” cholesterol levels (xi). For me, on balance, there is still not enough research showing impacts of this oil and there is enough evidence with it being a saturated fat to raise concerns for those of us with breast or prostate cancers (xii). I will sadly be cutting this largely from my diet.
So loads more I could write on this but must stop now.