Thursday, February 21, 2013

DHA, Females, Disordered Eating

I gave my presentation called "That Stuff Will Kill You" the weekend of February 16th, at Wolf River CrossFit, and it was a great time for me.  The crowd was attentive, and appeared to catch the "big rocks" of the presentation.  The process of preparing for and delivering this presentation is one that drives a good deal of revision, refinement and creativity as I reconsider how to best present the material.  This time was no exception.  I wish I could find an audience for this product about every two months - the creative cycle would be at its best on that schedule.

One issue that occurred to me was an explanation for the phenomenon of disordered eating.  Lierre Kieth's book, The Vegetarian Myth, pointed out a correlation between low fat diets and disordered eating, but I was left with little to hang my hat on in terms of causality.  Then, I ran across this article in Psychology Today that points out just how fat human females are supposed to be, relative to other mammals.
"Evidence from all over the world suggests that men strongly prefer women who have a lot of body fat (roughly 30 percent of their body weight) and whose body fat is distributed in a particular way, with very little in the waist but much more in the hips, buttocks and thighs, producing a small waist-hip ratio."

Reportedly, a healthy human female carries a higher body fat percentage than a whale.  There's no other female mammal that can hold a candle to a human female for carrying fat.

Lassek and Gaulin point out that a healthy human female stores a high proportion of hip fat as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is one of two long, branched chain omega-3 fatty acids that are essential nutrients for humans.  DHA is the raw material necessary to build a human brain.

The term "essential nutrient" means we cannot make much if any DHA on our own.  There is an implication that may be drawn when considering any essential nutrient, which is that our genome evolved in an environment from which that nutrient was a plentiful part of the diet.  Put another way, if we didn't have readily available sources of DHA, vitamin C, vitamin D, creatine, B vitamins, fats and complete proteins (IOW animal proteins), and other trace minerals (magnesium, zinc, etc) in our diets as hunters and gatherers, we wouldn't be here as we are.  Because all these essential nutrients WERE readily available in our hunter and gatherer diets, we did not evolve to make these for ourselves (nor did we evolve to be independent of, for example, magnesium intake).

So, shifting gears a bit, consider a young lady who is transitioning into fertility.  Her genetic hormonal milieu should be driving metabolic processes which command that she accumulate large quantities of fat, but not just any fat.  She needs animal fats, and probably seafood of some kind if she can get it.  In fact, I'll bet such a gal would benefit from eating as many grassfed animals and their livers and brains as possible, so that she can reach the genetically programmed goal of filling the substantial quantity of fat on her hips with a brain's worth of DHA.

Why would this imperative be specific to a human?  As Lassek and Gaulin wrote:
"The reason this is a promising idea is that humans have extraordinarily large brains, on the order of six or seven times larger than expected for a mammal of our size.  Is it just a coincidence that humans have brains six times larger than similarly sized mammals, and that women have six times as much fat as typical mammals?  Probably not."

Now consider that same young lady emerging in to Neoland, in which the salient cultural message is that fat is bad for her, and skinny butts are a virtue.  She eats low fat, and as a result, eats high carb.  She feels HUNGRY!  Why?  She'll be hungry for all the reasons a high carb diet makes anyone hungry AND she's depriving herself of a nutrient that her genome thinks she needs in monster quantities.  At this point of deprivation, mis-information, and emotional disarray you might think it was a miracle if a person did not have an eating disorder.

Now, I'm as unqualified as a fella could be in actually telling anyone with disordered eating what to eat, or when to eat it, or anything of the sort.  But if you are willing to bite on the conjectures inherent in the narrative above, the thing you would want to tell your young lady is - eat fat!  Here's the fish oil!  Have some grassfed porterhouse and have some more!  Skip the wheat, sugar and other low fat neofoods, and chow down on anything fat that you can find!!!  Dinner time, honey, eat up!

Stock up the house with:
Avocado.  Coconut oil with grass fed chicken eggs.  Bacon!  Macadamia nuts and lots of salt.  Sour cream.  Butter on every veggie that comes to the table (Kerry Gold, s'il vous plait).  85% cacao chocolate, dressed in unrefined coconut oil if possible.  Full fat, pastured cow dairy.  Delicious full fat hard cheeses.

The dirty little secret is these foods are very difficult to overeat.  Add sugar and that story is entirely different - think of the difference between stuffing yourself on lard, and stuffing yourself on oreo cookies.

Fats to avoid - all those neolithic fats from seeds and corn that have been hydrogenated to turn industrial waste into a "food" product.

Foods to avoid like it's a matter of life and death - anything soy and anything that is made with wheat or breaded/fried.  Anyone who's struggling with emotional issues or addictive/compulsive behavior would be well served to skip the dose of opioids you get from modern frankenwheats (never mind the excessive glycemic response, the intestinal permeability, and the phytates which block mineral absorption).  Skipping these foods has no downside from a nutritional perspective.

Point out that the best fat loss machine on the planet is the Atkins diet, so that she may think you want her to achieve to goal of being "too lean".  But make sure she realizes that when she's eating as nature intended - lots o fat - appetite is a signal of physiological need, not a force to be contended with.  You might even dare her to eat so much fat and protein that she gets "fat".  I would also make sure she was getting the other good stuff - grass fed dairy, magnesium, zinc, sunlight and/or a good vitamin D supplement, and plenty of cholesterol.  You would want her to get anything that would add up to a "OK, that's enough of that" signal.

I do not know if anyone has tested this idea.  I do not know if it would work.  I do believe that a low fat diet is about the most unnatural thing one could conceive in terms of diet, and that for a young person in particular, the combination of low fat, excess carbohydrate, and the natural stresses of the time could easily be a toxic brew.  The worst that could happen from a high fat intervention is the person could learn that fat isn't toxic and may be just the nutrient she needs.

This concept, by the way, is a perfect example of how epidemiological science could work to benefit an understanding of human nutritional needs.  An observational study could determine the correlation between those with disordered eating and low fat diets.  If the correlation is weaker for those with high fat diets, it would justify an intervention study to determine causality.

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