When Passions Collide – Omega-3s Are Essential So Why Would We Remove Them From Our Diets?

Last week the Cleveland HeartLab held its fourth annual Clinical Symposium. Excellent speakers addressed the group of some four hundred physicians and nurse practitioners from across the country. One in particular spoke with passion and unswerving conviction about his brand of a “no heart disease” diet. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn vociferously and vehemently admonished the audience not to include any oils in their diets. “No oils” he repeatedly shouted pounding his fists in the air. No one can deny he walks his talk; he is extraordinarily svelte, clearly carrying no superfluous fat on his own body. My talk was about the essential role omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids play in health and disease. And I too have my convictions and passions. And so we collided.

I steadfastly adhere to a worldview incorporating moderation, scientifically rigorous reflection on every aspect of human beings (from our evolutionary roots to the most reductionist biologic understanding), and acknowledgement that we do not and likely will never know everything. My position does not make room for Dr. Esselstyn’s view. His is simply too extreme. It also fails to consider the fact that human beings cannot adequately produce some vital fats such as EPA and DHA; those afforded us by our friends, the fish. EPA and DHA are indisputably essential contributors to the entire gamut of health considerations. From skin to eyes to brains and hearts, our organs need these fats to thrive. In fact, every cell in the human body requires DHA for optimal function. And even more compelling is the fact that we cannot adequately manufacture this fat. We need to eat it. So why eschew it? That is the problem with his thesis. Even if his handful of subjects adhering to this diet fails to develop cardiovascular events, it does not prove that the lack of fat plays any role. There are just too many other variables left unconsidered. Additionally, what diseases might be borne of such an unnaturally restricted diet? Too many questions remain for us to make a global experiment of Dr. Esselystyn’s hypothesis. We’ve done this before with dietary advice and hormone replacement recommendations and sadly we’ve been wrong every time.

In sum, I genuinely applaud Dr. Esselstyn for his dedication to extinguishing heart disease. His passion is real and his motivation pure. Still, that does not mean I must agree with him.

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