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Exclusive Online Expanded Version—The Essential in Fats: A Global Perspective for Healthy Skin Cells

By: Alexandra J. Zani
Posted: March 5, 2014, from the March 2014 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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Population groups who lived in more temperate or tropical regions had access to more vegetables and lean meats from wild animals, until the era of farming and domestication of animals. Unlike the Inuits of the far north who required large stores of fats including unsaturated fatty acids, people living in tropical areas with extra sun exposure consumed more stable monosaturated fats such as olive oil and other local fat sources. Their diet also included fresh vegetables and fruit that are lower in fats and rich in minerals, vitamins and fiber.

It is the opinion of many scientists to suggest that human bodies are genetically programmed to mimic the diets of our earlier ancestors who consumed local meat, fish, plants and fruit before the era of agriculture and with the introduction of grain and dairy products. Throughout thousands of years of human evolution a common theme emerged showing that no matter where a population group resided, each required core nutrients to build the internal biological mechanisms for growth, resistance to disease and survival. Following the industrial period, beginning in the 1760s, people’s lives changed dramatically. Each era has brought about changes in the way food is grown, cultivated and distributed. During the past 100 years, especially in the Western world, there have been dramatic dietary changes with the introduction of hydrogenated fats, modified and highly processed and artificial foods, with a reduction of local produce, meat and fish.

A lipid conundrum

Fast forward to the 20th century. The once consumed natural, minimally processed fats and oils altered dramatically with the 1911 introduction of a hydrogenated vegetable oil that was transformed into a solidified shortening product named Crisco. The process of hydrogenation stabilized natural vegetable oils into a solid mass that extended shelf life and was touted as a healthier alternative to lard and butter. The hydrogenation process forced hydrogen gas into vegetable oil at a high pressure. Healthy EFAs were chemically converted into trans fats and made into a solid. Hydrogenated oils have a higher melting point and became attractive to the fast food industry. Since the 1970s, a growing tendency was to view most dietary fats as an unhealthy, artery-clogging component that promoted heart disease and high cholesterol. It became a mantra amongst the public, the marketing campaigns and even with health care professionals—fats became bad. Instead of increasing optimal health, the elimination or reduction of fats from many foods were replaced by sugars and other artificial ingredients to improve texture and flavor. Initial intensions eventually backfired.

The idea that hydrogenated vegetable fats were a healthy alternative to saturated animal fats finally collapsed as studies during the early 1990s uncovered more serous health concerns. As early as the 1970s reports trickled in from European and Canadian researchers who began to connect the dots as they uncovered startling facts that artificial trans fats actually have an adverse effect on serum cholesterol, and could heighten breast and prostate cancer risks, and cause low birth weight and vision impairments in infants. Artificial trans fats are considered a big health concern because they disrupt cellular function and destroy the enzymes required for conversions of both n-3 and n-6 into their elongated forms. Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils essentially promote excessive production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins (PGs) and reduce the moderating influence of n-3s.

These startling reports were not very exciting to the manufacturers who had spent millions of dollars in promoting their products. Good intentions imploded with very adverse effects on millions in the Western world, including the rise in obesity due to sedentary lifestyles, poor eating habits and a rise in metabolic disorders.

Essential connections and EFA relationships