In the early-to-mid 1900s, the rates of stroke & heart attacks were on the rise.
Smoking was a known contributor to this phenomenon. It is a dense source of oxidative stress. When you take your first puff of cigarette smoke, it feels like your chest is on fire. In more ways than one, it is.
Oxidation reactions there needs fuel. So, if smoking is providing oxidative stress...then what is the fuel?
Unfortunately for us, there was a second culprit blamed for the rise of cardiovascular disease - saturated fats. That is the topic of this article.
Fire & Mitochondria
Before we continue with the danger to the circulatory system, we need to take a brief detour to discuss the relationship between fire and metabolism.
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Read the whole article
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The evidence is overwhelming (experimental and clinical) that oxidation of PUFAs play a role in every step of atherosclerosis, including fatty streak formation, atheromatous lesion, plaque instability and rupture. Instability & rupture causes strokes in the brain, heart attacks, and infarctions in every organ that has limited blood supply. The liver and skin are less impacted - they have a lot of redundant blood supply, and usually the other critical organs fail first (e.g brain, heart, kidneys).
The above diagrammed chain reaction is the reason why PUFAs are so dangerous.
Recall the description of combustion:
The combustion of fuel occurs in the absence of enzymes, and relies on a chain reaction to propagate itself until the fuel or oxygen has been consumed.
Lipid peroxidation chain reactions will continue until one radical encounters another radical, neutralizing one another.
Now, imagine that the cells which line your blood vessel (endothelium) have PUFAs in their membranes. The red blood cell membranes also have PUFAs. The balls of cholesterol floating in your blood stream have PUFAs. They are all waiting for an oxidation event.
Oxidation-reduction reactions are the norm throughout the body. But in the presence of PUFAs, this can lead to chain reactions that can propagate uncontrolled. Whether it's the inner wall of the blood vessel, or a ball of cholesterol rushing towards your brain.
The endothelium (blood vessel lining) is a very sensitive single-layer membrane that comes in direct contact with the contents of blood. Even a microsecond of a PUFA oxidation event can damage it, exposing the layers underneath. Once these layers are exposed, one of two things can happen which are potentially devastating:
- Other reactive fatty acids (more PUFAs, for example) can bind to it. This results in fatty streak formation, and eventual atherosclerosis.
- Platelets can start binding and aggregating to exposed basement membrane proteins. This can lead to clot formation ⇨ infarcts
This is why ulcerated atherosclerotic plaques are predictive of impending stroke, heart attack, or dissection. In my estimation, this mechanism also plays a role in aneurysm rupture.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
If the damage caused by these PUFAs was a brief episode, you probably wouldn't suffer long-term illness.
But, many people who consume PUFAs do so for years and decades, if not their whole life. You can hardly blame them - seed oils are in almost everything we consume. In fact, people who try to avoid seed oils often have a hard time both in restaurants and the grocery store. It is so widespread, it has likely contributed to the recent trend of extreme elimination diets.
These elimination diets have a point.
Lipid peroxidation and highly inflammatory states contribute to almost everything that's causing illness in the modern world:
- Cardiovascular disease (leading cause of death and disability)
- Kidney Failure
- Even Osteoporosis ⇨ fractures, which is often categorized as traumatic
As a little experiment, go to a search engine and query:
"Lipid peroxidation" and "any chronic illness"
Every tissue needs blood perfusion. By slowly destroying the blood supply, you develop micro-infarcts that accumulate across time. And, by delivering highly reactive PUFAs to an organ, you are actively oxidizing it. It's lose-lose.
Brain MRI demonstrating grade of 'microvascular ischemia' - tiny infarcts that manifest as confluent loss of white matter across time
Connection to COVID
There are two connections to COVID, actually.
The first is reasonably well encapsulated in this tweet:
I believe the abnormally high rates of illness this past 2 years is due to:
1. Lockdowns/restrictions and the downstream health consequences
2. Inflation causing people to shift towards more affordable food (seed oil, cheap carbs)
3. Global-scale clinical trial
No one virus.
— Remnant | MD (@RemnantMd) April 17, 2022
When the lockdown and restrictions started to get really heavy-handed, reasonable people were concerned with the behavioral changes that would be harmful:
- More sedentary life
- Ordering food (for many reasons, including supporting local businesses)
- Increased alcohol and drug use
This is one connection to the "COVID era," and we are now seeing the consequences of these behaviors. I know some people want to blame the differences in rates of illness to the vaccines, but I think that is only one of three contributing factors.
The second connection is directly related to oxidative stress.
Our lungs help bring oxygen into the bloodstream, so that it can be circulated to our organs. Oxygen is just one oxidant in the air. There's also ozone, amongst others. Our lungs are constantly exposed to oxidative stress - especially if you are a smoker.
You would think that our lungs have evolved mechanisms to resist oxidants - and they have! For example, surfactant (the fluid that keeps your lungs open) has a protein which binds to and neutralizes oxidants. But, even the lungs have their limit. At some point, they will give in. What happens when the lungs fail?
The lungs provide a boundary that allows your blood to engage with the air without letting free air into your blood stream, or fluid moving into your lungs. So when the lung fails...fluid tends to accumulate in the lungs.
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome
ARDS is a type of respiratory failure characterized by rapid onset of widespread inflammation in the lungs - leading to fluid build-up.
Obesity is a risk factor for ARDS. It also happens to be a major risk factor for severe COVID-19. One mechanism accounting for this is that people who are obese tend to have a diet high in PUFAs. PUFAs stored in fat can be oxidized as part of a chain reaction, which will lead to a higher severity/amplitude of inflammation.
In the early days of COVID, people were admitted left and right with what looked like ARDS. Our central medical authorities decided this was 'severe COVID.'
But, if you take an unhealthy person, with an unhealthy diet...expose them to an infection...then refuse to treat them for 10 days...a large proportion of them will get ARDS. In this setting any infection is potentially fatal. If you are old, obese, or have high baseline oxidative stress...any infection can get real bad, real fast.
What is the Crime?
In the 1950s Ancel Keys was trying to make a name for himself. He saw an opportunity with heart disease. He had (stole) a hypothesis - and he ran with it.
But, how did he make it so far? Who were his benefactors? One group was Proctor & Gamble.
In the early 1900s, P&G were in the business of making wax and soap - from animal fat. At some point, animal fat got expensive. So, P&G collaborated with a German who had developed the process of hydrogenation. Here they saw an opportunity to mill cottonseed into oil, and hydrogenate it into something that was 'fatty.' This became a substitute for their wax & soap production, which allowed them to scale.
Eventually, electricity made candle-light obsolete. Which meant that P&G were stuck with a cheap way of making "oil," but no product to put it in. That is until unsaturated fatty acids were hailed (by Ancel et al) as a healthy alternative. P&G repurposed the cottonseed oil into Crisco vegetable oil - without telling people what was in it.
For some people in certain positions (e.g. P&G executives), the idea that their product might cause mass harm and suffering does not even cross their mind.
And, why should it?
The WHO & AHA have promoted PUFAs for decades, and to some extent still do.