The Dangers of Polyunsaturated Vegetable Oils

From the pioneering research of Dr. Weston A. Price

This is Part II of an article (Part I appeared in the April/May 2003 issue of NLJ) by acclaimed author Sally Fallon which presents the findings of Dr. Weston Price’s investigation into the diets of healthy “primatives”–cultures which had no contact with “civilization”. His research challenges assumptions about the contemporary American culture’s diet for health.

The scientific literature is clear about the dangers of polyunsaturated vegetable–oils the kind that are supposed to be good for us. Because polyunsaturates are highly subject to rancidity, they increase the body’s need for vitamin E and other antioxidants. Canola oil, in particular, can create severe vitamin E deficiency. Excess consumption of vegetable oils is especially damaging to the reproductive organs and the lungs–both of which are sites for huge increases in cancer in the US.

In test animals, diets high in polyunsaturates from vegetable oils inhibit the ability to learn, especially under conditions of stress; are toxic to the liver; compromise the integrity of the immune system; depress the mental and physical growth of infants; increase levels of uric acid in the blood; cause abnormal fatty acid profiles in the adipose tissues: have been linked to mental decline and chromosomal damage and accelerate aging. Excess consumption of polyunsaturates is associated with increasing rates of cancer, heart disease and weight gain.

Excess use of commercial vegetable oils interferes with the production of prostaglandins–localized tissue hormones–leading to an array of complaints such as autoimmune diseases, sterility and PMS. Polyunsaturated oils hardened to make margarine and shortening by a process called hydrogenation, they deliver a double whammy of increased cancer, reproductive problems, learning disabilities and growth problems in children.

The vital research of Weston Price remains largely forgotten because the importance of his findings, if recognized by the general populace, would bring down America’s largest industry–food processing and its three supporting pillars–refined sweeteners, white flour and vegetable oils. Representatives of this industry have worked behind the scenes to erect the huge edifice of the “lipid hypothesis”–the untenable theory that saturated fats and cholesterol cause heart disease and cancer.

All one has to do is look at the statistics to know that it isn’t true. Butter consumption at the turn of the century was eighteen pounds per person per year, and the use of vegetable oils almost nonexistent. Yet cancer and heart disease were rare. Today butter consumption hovers just above four pounds per person per year while vegetable oil consumption has soared–and cancer and heart disease are endemic.

What the research really shows is that both refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils cause imbalances in the blood and at the cellular level that lead to an increased tendency to form blood clots, leading to myocardial infarction. This kind of heart disease was virtually unknown in America in 1900.

Today it has reached epidemic levels. Atherosclerosis, or the buildup of hardened plague in the artery walls, cannot be blamed on saturated fats or cholesterol. Very little of the material in this plaque is cholesterol. A 1994 study appearing in the Lancet showed that almost three quarters of the fat in artery clogs is unsaturated. The “artery clogging” fats are not animal fats but vegetable oils.

Built into the whole cloth of the lipid hypothesis is the postulate that the traditional foods of our ancestors–the butter, cream, eggs, liver, meat and fish eggs that Dr. Price recognized were necessary to produce “splendid physical development” in “primatives”–are bad for us.

A number of stratagems have served to imbed this notion in the consciousness of the people, not the least of which was the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), during which your tax dollars paid for a packet of “information” on cholesterol and heart disease to be sent to every physician in America.

In 1990, two generations after Weston Price conceived of studying isolated nonindustrialized people as a way of learning how to confer good health on our children, the National Cholesterol Education Program recommended a lowfat diet for all Americans above the age of two. The advantage of such a diet is supposed to be reduced risk of heart disease in later life–even though not a single study has shown such an hypothesis to be tenable.

What the scientific literature does tell us is that low fat diets for children, or diets in which vegetable oils have been substituted for animal fats, result in failure to thrive–failure to grow tall and strong–as well as learning disabilities, susceptibility to infection and behavioral problems. Teenage girls who adhere to such a diet risk reproductive problems. If they do manage to conceive, their chances of giving birth to a low birth weight baby, or a baby with birth defects, are high.

Compared to this folly, the wisdom of the so-called primitive in regards to ensuring the health of his children has inspired the awe of Weston Price and all who have read his book. Again and again he found that tribal groups–especially those in Africa and the South Pacific–fed special foods to young men and women before conception, to women during pregnancy and lactation, and to children during their growing years.

When he tested these foods–things like liver, shellfish, organ meats and bright yellow butter–he found them to be extremely rich in the “fat-soluble activators”–vitamins A and D.

For a future of healthy children–for any future at all–we must turn our backs on the dietary advice of sophisticated medical orthodoxy. We must return to the food wisdom of our so-called primitive ancestors, choosing traditional whole foods that are organically grown, humanely raised, minimally processed and above all not shorn of their vital lipid component.

Sally Fallon is the author of Nourishing Traditions, The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (NewTrends Publishing 877-707-1776, She serves as President of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit nutrition education foundation located in Washington, DC.