Linoleic Acid — The Most Destructive Ingredient in Your Diet

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by Dr. Joseph Mercola, Mercola:

STORY AT-A-GLANCE
  • Fats are the primary building block of your cell membranes. This is one of the reasons why eating the right types of fat is so important for your health and longevity
  • While most nutritional experts blame the epidemic of chronic disease on the increase in sugar consumption, the role of sugar is relatively minor when compared to the impact of seed oils
  • There are two basic types of fatty acids, based on how many of their carbon bonds are paired with hydrogen: saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are further subdivided into monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), depending on how many pairs of hydrogen atoms they are missing

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  • Because your tissues are made up mostly of saturated and monounsaturated fats, your body requires more of them than PUFAs
  • The main dietary PUFAs are omega-3 and omega-6 fats, and while your body does need these, it needs them in relatively small quantities. The most pernicious toxin in the modern diet, and the fat you need to minimize consumption of, is the omega-6 fat linoleic acid (LA). LA makes up 60% to 80% of omega-6 fats and is the primary contributor to chronic disease

Fats — which are water-insoluble biological molecules also known as lipids1 — are the primary building block of your cell membranes. This is one of the reasons why eating the right types of fat is so important for your health and longevity.

Well, after three grueling rounds of peer review over the last three months, my paper on the hazards of linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 polyunsaturated fat (PUFA), is now published in the high impact Nutrition journal Nutrients and available for free download, here.2

Please download the article and save it on your hard drive as you never know what will happen with a future crisis. You can send it to doctors who don’t yet believe how dangerous seed oils are, but truthfully, the video above is likely better for your friends.

I couldn’t have done it without my co-author Dr. Chris D’Adamo who skillfully and diplomatically helped to navigate the minefield of peer review. Our next paper will likely be on reductive stress which is one of the most important foundational and unknown concepts in health. It helps explains why LA is so devastating to your health at a molecular biological level.

Lowering your LA is the single most important strategy you can take to not only lower reductive stress in your mitochondria, but improve your overall health. It took me over six months to create the video above and I would strongly encourage each of you to watch is several times so you embed in your brain how important avoiding LA is for your long-term health so you can develop unconscious reflex behaviors to avoid this pernicious fat.

Fatty Acid Basics

What distinguishes one fat from another is the specific combination of fatty acids it’s composed of, and the properties of fats and fatty acids depend on their hydrogen saturation and the length of their molecules, also referred to as “chain length.”

There are two basic types of fatty acids, based on how many of their carbon bonds are paired with hydrogen:3

Saturated fats are fully loaded with hydrogen atoms forming straight chains, and are typically solid at room temperature (examples include butter and coconut oil)

Unsaturated fats have lost at least one of the pairs of hydrogen atoms from their carbon chain and come in two varieties:

Monounsaturated fats, which are missing one pair of hydrogen atoms

Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs), which are missing more than one pair of hydrogen atoms, hence the name “poly”

The loss of hydrogen results in molecules that kink or bend at each double bond. The more hydrogen pairs that are missing, the more bent the molecules, which causes the molecules to occupy more space. This is what makes the fat a liquid oil at room temperature.

In addition to varying levels of hydrogen saturation, fats also vary in the length of their carbon chains, leading to another classification scheme based on their number of carbon atoms:4

  • Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) — Two to four carbon atoms
  • Medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) — Six to 10 carbon atoms
  • Long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) — 12 to 26 carbon atoms
  • Very-long-chain fatty acids5 (VLCFAs) — 26 to 30 carbon atoms

The chain length and hydrogen saturation level control a fat’s melting point. As chain length increases, melting point increases. Likewise, fats that are solid at room temperature (butter, coconut oil) have longer chain lengths than fats that are liquid at room temperature (fish oil, olive oil). With chain lengths being equal, the polyunsaturated fats found in seeds oils have lower melting points than saturated fats.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Basics

PUFAs can also be subdivided into omega-3 and omega-6 fats. The end of the fatty acid chain that is opposite the acid end is the “omega end.” The location of the first double bond from the omega end dictates whether a fatty acid is an omega-3, omega-6, omega-9 (oleic acid) or another member of the omega family.

The most pernicious toxin in the modern diet, and the fat you need to minimize consumption of, is the omega-6 fat linoleic acid (LA). LA makes up 60% to 80% of omega-6 fats and is the primary contributor to chronic disease.

To be clear, it’s only toxic when consumed in excessive quantities, but the vast majority of people nowadays consuming far more than the ideal amounts. The history of how seed oils ended up replacing far healthier animal fats is detailed in the video above.

Many still believe that if you have a distorted omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, the solution is simply to consume more omega-3, but that’s a serious mistake. While you certainly need a certain amount of omega-3s for good health, adding excessive omega-3s is a prescription for disaster, as omega-3 is also a PUFA.

So, when consumed in excessive quantities, omega-3 will cause metabolic damage similar to that of LA, as it breaks down into dangerous metabolites known as ALEs (advanced lipoxidation end products).

Commonly Confused Fats

It is also important to highlight a primarily plant-based omega-3 fat called alpha linolenic acid (ALA). ALA should not be confused with LA, as they are quite different from a biological standpoint. LA is an omega-6 fat and ALA is an omega-3 fat.

Also, do not confuse LA with CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). Although CLA is an omega-6 fat and most think CLA and LA are interchangeable, they’re not. CLA has many potent health benefits and will not cause the problems that LA does.

The Problem With PUFAs

As a general rule, vegetable and seed oils are high in PUFAs and low in saturated fats while animal fats are the converse. Saturated and monounsaturated fats are more easily used by your body than PUFAs, hence animal fats are generally healthier than seed oils.

Because your tissues are made up mostly of saturated and monounsaturated fats, your body also requires more of them than PUFAs. The main dietary PUFAs are omega-3 and omega-6 fats, and while your body does need these, it needs them in relatively small quantities.

One significant problem with PUFAs is that they are chemically unstable, which makes them highly susceptible to being damaged by oxygen species generated from the energy production in your cells. This damage causes them to form ALEs, which in turn generate dangerous free radicals that damage your cell membranes, mitochondria, proteins and DNA.

What’s worse, PUFAs are integrated into your cell membranes and can remain so for five to seven years. The missing hydrogen atoms also make PUFAs highly susceptible to oxidation, which causes the fat to break down into harmful metabolites such as OXLAMs (oxidized LA metabolites), which have a profoundly negative impact on your health.

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