Smart Drugs,

#166: Omega-6 Fatty Acids with Dr. Chris Masterjohn

February 03, 2017

Over the past half-century, the “Standard American Diet” (often and appropriately abbreviated “SAD”) has been gradually pruned of cod liver oil, liver, and egg yolks.  Each of these were foods our grandparents and great-grandparents would have found familiar — and each of which, according to Dr. Chris Masterjohn, help deliver nutritionally crucial fatty acids.

Dr. Masterjohn’s personal journey includes the transition from a vegetarian to one of the most vocal public advocates of animal fats and proteins.  Now the host of “The Daily Lipid” podcast and deeply involved in ongoing nutritional research, he works to educate the public on the utility of fats, the “master hormone” cholesterol, and the difficulty of maintaining health while straying far from a natural human diet.

What constitutes a natural human diet, according to Masterjohn?

Mid-20th-century studies of remaining native populations that still lived largely traditional lives (and ate diets stretching back into pre-history) found four food categories that were consistently present:

  • Shellfish
  • Organ Meats and Egg Yolks
  • Dairy Products
  • Small Animals (insects, small frogs, etc.)

The cultures surveyed all held one — and often more — of these food categories as dietary staples.  What’s the connection?

High-quality (and often hydrogen-saturated) animal fats: the kind that delivers easily bioavailable fatty acids that human bodies need for proper functioning.  Shortages in these nutritional building blocks can aggravate problems throughout the body.  These are often first visible in problems with skin, hair, and nails, but can even extend to neurological conditions like anxiety, depression, and an inability to concentrate.

Keeping the body — and the brain — stocked up on “healthy fats” can stop problems before they start and even reverse the symptoms from problems-already-begun.

What about lack of balance between Omega-3s and Omega-6s?

It is often said that the ratio between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids should be carefully monitored and that the Standard American Diet is over-represented with Omega-6 (including, chiefly, arachidonic acid).

However, it might be that optimal health does not require meticulous biochemical balancing acts in the kitchen. The plant-based precursors of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids (primarily alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, respectively) use many of the same enzymes within the body for their final conversion into the fatty acids we need.  This means if the dietary ratio of the precursors is off-balance, then the resulting compounds generated in the body will also be skewed.

But by eating the animal forms (primarily docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid) as part of the diet rather than plant-based precursors that need to be reconstituted within the body, an off-balance nutritional ratio becomes a moot point.  As long as “enough” is available, there’s no chance for one precursor-stream to squeeze out the other for lack of internal enzymes.

According to Masterjohn, this just makes things easier.  It’s not impossible to maintain a healthy diet as a vegetarian — it just requires a lot more work and attention.  People who don’t want to rely on nutritional supplements or micromanage their diet should welcome presence of naturally-raised animal foods, including animal fats.

Dr. Masterjohn is highly active online, including:

One comment

  1. Ryan says:

    When Chris mentions the goldilocks zone for a carb intake that maximizes insulin sensitivity and provides ideal levels of insulin signaling @ “a couple hundred grams” are we looking at total carbs (including fiber) or just net carbs?

    If we’re looking to really maximize this insulin sensitivity / signaling, would it make the most sense to get this carb intake in over a weekly average (higher carbs just on workout days consumed post-workout at night, then less on the other days of the week), or would it be better to get them in at a consistent intake, maybe with higher carbs in the morning (pre-workout?) I suppose these could be spread across 4-5 meals with snacks (~30g net carbs per meal) or across just 1-2 square meals (~100-200g total carbs per meal). Does this level of detail not really matter, or might it make some difference in health & body composition over the decades?

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