There’s been a lot of talk lately about seed oils and their negative impact on our health. What I was surprised to find out was why? It appears that seed oils can directly impact our endocannabinoid system (ECS), and hence our overall health. Our discussion today is not about beta-caryophyllene (BCP), but about how to keep our ECS working optimally and in turn improve our health. If you haven’t already, make sure you read our previous blog on the ECS and find out why it’s so important to keep it working optimally – here.
When talking about nutrition, fats and oils is always a topic of intense scrutiny. Seed Oils are often marketed as healthier alternatives to traditional fats. However, emerging research suggests that their consumption may have a significant impact on our ECS, potentially contributing to weight gain and a range of other health problems. So let’s take a deeper look into the interaction between seed oils and the ECS.
What are Seed Oils?
Seed oils, or you may know them as vegetable oils, are extracted from various seeds such as sunflower, soybean, corn, canola, and safflower. They have gained popularity in recent years due to their perceived health benefits, including their high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) such as omega-3 and omega-6. These PUFAs are essential for our body’s functioning, as they play a crucial role in maintaining cell structure and supporting vital processes.
The Endocannabinoid System – refresher!
The ECS is a complex signalling system that consists of a network of receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes. They work together to regulate various physiological functions. It’s the ECS that keeps the body in “balance” (homeostasis), therefore, its functions are vital for influencing processes like metabolism, mood, immune response and pain perception, to name just a few.
Do Seed Oils disrupt the ECS?
While seed oils contain essential fatty acids, they are also rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which can disrupt the delicate balance of the ECS. Here’s a quote from another previous blog: “An individual’s dietary omega-3/omega-6 ratio affects not only inflammatory processes, but also the balance and tone of the entire endocannabinoid system. And, since the ECS works to maintain homeostasis within the body as a whole, this relationship goes a long way toward explaining that when our omega fatty acid intake deviates too far from the ideal ratio, everything from our brain to our gut may be thrown off balance”.
***The key to optimising your health = consuming the correct balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
A typical western diet is high in Omega-6 fatty acids, and this high Omega 6 ratio can activate your body’s inflammatory response. So if you already have chronic inflammation or having an autoimmune flare-up – I’d be checking the labels for seed oils!
It was thought that seed oils were a healthy option for the heart because they are low in LDL cholesterol. But that’s very misleading, because we now know that seed oils due to their inflammatory qualities, can actually aggravate heart disease.
Consider substituting unnatural, inflammatory polyunsaturated fats, for natural saturated fats.
It’s becoming clear, that contrary to what we’ve been told, animal-based saturated fats aren’t that bad for you. For thousands of years, our ancestors consumed animal fats for energy with no bad effects. A lot of dis-ease today are modern illnesses caused by a modern day diet!! Of course, everything in moderation 🙂
***Omega-6 fatty acids serve as precursors to endocannabinoids that promote inflammation and oxidative stress when not kept in check by omega-3 fatty acids.
***A diet high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 fatty acids can lead to an overactive ECS, potentially contributing to a cascade of negative effects.
- Weight Gain and Obesity: An imbalanced ECS has been linked to an increased risk of weight gain and obesity. When the ECS is over activated, it can lead to an altered appetite, making it harder to regulate food intake and resulting in excessive weight gain.
- Inflammation and Metabolic Disorders: Excessive omega-6 intake from seed oils can lead to chronic inflammation. Inflammation is a major contributor to the onset of metabolic disorders, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
- Mood and Mental Health: The ECS also plays a role in mood regulation. Depression, anxiety and other mood disorders have all been associated with imbalances in the ECS.
- Gut Health: Emerging research suggests that an imbalanced ECS might impact gut health and contribute to digestive issues.
- Insulin Resistance: Omega-6 fatty acids can interfere with insulin signalling, potentially leading to insulin resistance and an increased risk of diabetes.
Avoid processed seed and vegetable oils, as well as processed foods that include them, to minimise your omega 6 consumption.
The chart below lists some common fats and oils. Spoiler alert – avoid the oils that have a large blue bar (they have a high proportion of omega-6).
Butter, coconut oil, and olive oil are the winners since they are all reasonably low in omega-6.
It’s critical to understand that not all fats and oils are equal. While seed oils may pose potential risks, it’s equally crucial to incorporate healthier alternatives into your diet. Oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, hemp seed oil and even a good quality butter are rich in monounsaturated fats and have a more favourable omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, which supports a balanced endocannabinoid system and overall health.
The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are found in animal products. (Hold on vegans, we have a solution coming for you too)!
We see a lot of “grass fed” meat on our supermarket shelves today, and that’s for good reason. People are realising that animals feed on a grain-based diet (that’s mainly soy and maize), results in meat that is high in omega 6’s.
So, if you can afford it, grass-fed meat is definitely the best option.
But if your only option is conventionally raised meat that’s okay, just don’t eat processed meats.
Have you ever wondered why they say that pastured eggs are better for you – well, it’s because they are higher in omega-3s. Again, hens that are feed grain-based foods are the best for us that are trying to be healthy.
Seafood, once or twice a week is another way to increase your omega-3 intake. Fatty fish like salmon are excellent! Or a fish oil supplement is a good alternative.
Ok vegans, your turn. Flaxseed and chia seeds are both excellent plant sources. These, however, include ALA, and the body is poor at converting ALA to the active forms EPA and DHA.
So basically, the best choices are animal sources of omega-3s, such as fish and grass-fed animals. But you can get vegan friendly supplements that contain EPA and DHA – they are mostly extracted from algae.
The intricate relationship between seed oils, the endocannabinoid system, and our health underscores the complexity of nutritional choices. There is still more research to be done, to fully understand the extent of the impact of seed oil consumption on the ECS, the current evidence suggests that excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids from seed oils may disrupt the delicate balance within our bodies, potentially leading to weight gain and a range of health problems. Opting for healthier oil alternatives and maintaining a balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can play a crucial role in supporting a well-functioning endocannabinoid system and promoting overall well-being.
So there you have it! We can take our BCP until the cows come home (pun intended) but if we are truly looking for ways to either improve our health or stay healthy then keeping our ECS working optimally should be of our highest priority – and by what we found out today, keeping away from seed oils would be a great start.
Cheers everyone, have a great week!
Sources: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/optimize-omega-6-omega-3-ratio#TOC_TITLE_HDR_5, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8196941/?fbclid=IwAR1k_KTjE6N0cA-TU6f7Zrsr5u6Qn_hUpy-HEkChHHveVWraEfT8Ml85gYE, https://thetrailtohealth.com/blog/toxic-seed-oils
Disclaimer: The information in this post is for reference purposes only and not intended to constitute or replace professional medical advice or personal research. Please consult a qualified medical professional before making any changes to your diet, medications or lifestyle. Effects are provided as a guide only. Statements have not been evaluated by the TGA.