On the latest episode of the excellent TV show Mad Men, which takes place in 1960, a man who has just had a heart attack says, “Did everything they told me. Drank the cream. Ate the butter.” A humorous comment on how ideas change. Now, of course, many people — possibly including the screenwriter — think eating cream and butter causes heart attacks. After a year studying omega-3s, I’m sure it wasn’t the amount of fat that caused the high-fat diet/heart attack correlation, it was the type of fat (low in omega-3). Cream and butter would have been fine if the cows’ food contained plenty of omega-3.
For decades we’ve been told that cream and butter and other animal fats “clog your arteries”. It’s like a well-known experiment with split-brain patients. The patient chooses a card based on what he sees on a screen. The two hemispheres see different things. In one particular trial, the right hemisphere saw a picture of snow on the screen and picked out a card with a picture of a shovel. The left hemisphere saw a chicken claw. The left hemisphere controls speech. When the patient was asked to explain the choice, he said, “You need a shovel to clean out the chicken coop.” This happened again and again: The left hemisphere did not know why a card had been chosen but rather than saying “I don’t know” it confidently made up an explanation. Keep this in mind the next time you hear an explanation.
Studies to see if omega-3 supplementation reduces heart attacks have had ambiguous results, as Marion Nestle said. Why am I so sure that lack of omega-3 is the problem? (So sure that I no longer worry about my cholesterol.) 1. There is lots of evidence that heart attacks are due to inflammation. 2. There is lots of evidence that omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory. 3. Eskimos had very low rates of heart disease and ate a diet high in omega-3 fats. 4. Many studies have correlated heart attack risk with gum disease. 5. My self-experimentation showed beyond any doubt that omega-3 supplementation makes the brain work better. It also showed what effective dosages are. 6. When Tyler Cowen took an effective dose, his gum disease quickly disappeared. Everyone — everyone who thinks about this stuff — knows #1-#4. It is #5 and #6 that are new and complete the chain of reasoning. I believe #6 is as meaningful as the observation that scurvy is quickly cured by lime juice.
In the 1930s, a dentist named Weston Price went all over the world looking at people’s gums. He wanted to compare modern diets with traditional diets. When his subjects ate a modern diet, he found gum disease. When they ate a traditional diet, their gums were fine even when they never brushed their teeth. In a few cases, such as an isolated group of Swiss mountain people, the traditional diets contained lots of butter and cream — from grass-fed cows. My gums vastly improved after I started taking good amounts of omega-3 (via flaxseed oil). After I reread Weston Price recently, I stopped being so careful about flossing and brushing. It hasn’t made a difference. In the past, my gums would bleed when I flossed unless I flossed daily. Now I floss rarely but they don’t bleed. I’m sure my whole circulatory system is in better shape.