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An Interview with Udo Erasmus

by Sandra Goodman PhD and Mike Howell(more info)

listed in interviews, originally published in issue 12 - May 1996

People are following many kinds of diet these days. Some are following raw foods, a fruit diet, people are going on naturopathic fasts, juice fasts, some of those don't incorporate any oils at all, other than perhaps in a salad. We read about a man recently who just lives on fruit and he said that his intake of oils is adequate. He said he got his oils from avocados.

Avocados have some monounsaturated, a little bit of essential fatty acids, but not a lot. But the people who are fruitarian, they often get lymphoma and leukaemia and the treatment for those people is to feed them steak, because they've gone way off balance on one side of the spectrum, whereas the meat eaters, the North American meat eaters, anyway – I guess the British don't eat a lot of beef these days – but the North American heavy meat eaters, they need to go in the direction of vegetables and fruit. So it's a question of balance. I think the easiest way to look at the diets is that you need to copy nature. We evolved in a natural system, over 2.5 million years.

People have very different interpretations of how they think the natural diet is and they range all the way from eating raw meat to eating no cooked food, to the Japanese who want to cook most grains and so on, and Ayurvedic which depends on your body type.

Also, diets differ, some of them are more grain-based, some of them are more protein-based. When somebody said there's one diet that is best for everybody, that is never true, because if your digestion is poor you get undigested protein absorbed which leads to food allergies which can also lead to an auto-immune condition. People whose digestion is poor tend to gravitate toward grain/vegetable diets, because they are lower in protein and protein causes them most of the problems. If their adrenals aren't working and the digestion is, then they tend to do better on high protein diets. If they are athletes they need more protein, if it's hot, they need more salads, if it gets cold, you need something heavier, so it depends on the climate, it depends on the person's particular condition and people really have to find out for themselves how they do best.

But it's always in line in some way with the natural system. Wholefoods, raw, organic, in season, sunripe oil, that's where it all started.

That's what the animals still eat, except to the extent that we pollute everything. That's what the natural state is and health is the natural state.

What about the balanced diet?

Lots of problems with the balanced diet. They don't make a distinction between essential fatty acids and hydrogenated fats and refined oils, and frying is not on the list. They don't make a distinction between whole grains and white flour. They talk about five servings of fruit and five of vegetables. I would change it to nine of vegetables and one of fruit, because of the sugar in the fruit which increases triglycerides for many people. There are lots of problems with that. It's really more a political piece of work than scientific, natural, nature-based.

Are you advocating, apart from natural wholegrain and untreated foods, that people not eat any animal foods like meat, fish and eggs.

No, I think that the traditions that have been studied on all kinds of different diets, some more meat-based, some more grain-based, some more vegetable-based, all did well provided the foods were whole and unprocessed. It's the processing that's always the buggaboo – and the oils too.

Hydrogenated is highly processed. Fried is highly processed. We find deodorised is highly processed. Those are the oils that cause the major problems, aside from essential fatty acid deficiencies, which you might get.

There has been a massive amount of exposure in the media to the harmful effects of fat and every bit of recommendation that we hear is to avoid fats. I would imagine that you have quite a different slant on it.

Yes, I have major objections to the low-fat, no-fat diet fad that is the rage these days. There are some things from fats that we need to live and be healthy. Things from fats are just as important as minerals, vitamins and proteins. And the low-fat diet negates that – if you take out all the fats from your diet, you are not going to get the fats you need. The feedback we get from people who are doing the low-fat diets because they think all fats are poison, is that there is stunted growth in children, that they lead to dry skin, low energy levels, and sometimes your hair falls out.

What sort of levels are these low-fat diets?

Less than 10%. But there are lots of things on the market that have no fat at all.

What was the fat content of the Pritikin diet?

Pritikin was 10%. He actually went down to 7% and his immune function was impaired; at this level digestion is impaired and you get leaky gut food allergies.

Just from low-fat?

From low-fat diets. Testosterone production stops, you can get sterility, you can get miscarriage. You can get brain function defects, there is a correlation between more violent deaths and suicide, probably because of the way low-fat diets affect the brain. There are many areas where low-fat diets cause problems. In the leaky gut area, it probably has something to do with the structural properties of the essential fatty acids in the membranes that surround the cells, or the tissue integrity. I know that if you take essential fatty acids out of single cell membranes, you get a change in what can go in and out of cells and what stays out and what stays in. So I suspect that it has something to with that although I am not entirely sure. All I know is that the people on low-fat diets tend to get digestive disturbances and food allergies.

What sort of research has been done about the role of essential fatty acids in human metabolism and digestion?

Not much in digestion. Most of what we get is from clinical feedback and from people feedback. People come up and they say "I'm doing everything right, what am I doing wrong?" and I say "you are on a low-fat diet, that's what you're doing wrong". It's that simple.

I get the people who fail on those diets and if they insist on staying on that diet after they fail, sometimes they mess up their digestive system and it takes them years to get it back together. But usually they come in time and then all you have to do is add the right kind of oils to the diet, maybe 2 or 3 tablespoons a day, and their problems are fixed. Because these are specifically low-fat caused problems.

Not all fats are equal, are they?

No, you have to get the right amount of fat, which is about 15-20% of calories, according to the traditional diets.

Are they eating 30% fat here?

Yes, we're from 40% to 30% and when we are at 30%, they want to go down to 20%. But it has to be the right amount of fat, the right kind of fat, rich in essential fatty acids and minor ingredients.

Essential fatty acids – omega-3 – alpha linolenic acid, omega-6 – linoleic acid and from those, most people's bodies make derivatives of EPA and DHA and GLA and arachidonic acid.

And the best sources for these would be?

The best and richest source for the omega-3 is flax; for omega-6, my favourite source is sunflower and sesame seeds. And the reason for that is that the third area that is important in getting the fats right is the area called the minor ingredients. They make up about 2% of the unrefined oil, that's why they are called minor. Hundreds of different compounds are in them and they have major benefits on health.

For instance, in extra virgin olive oil, it's not the oil that has the benefit but the minor ingredients which improve gall bladder function, liver function, digestion and cardiovascular function. If you threw out the oil and just kept the minor ingredients, you would have an extremely good thing. So they need to be the right kind of oils and then you need to make them right because the essential fatty acids are extremely sensitive to destruction by light and oxygen.

Can you buy good flaxseed oil in shops?

In a few. Flax oil was the first oil I developed in North America. It has made it here in a small amount, but I've now switched from flax oil to a blend which is better balanced, because the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 is important. If you get too much of one, you become deficient in the other. And flax oil has actually made people deficient in omega-6; it is better to make something that is balanced well enough, that they can take one product.

Why do you recommend flax oil as a source of omega-3 rather than fish oils?

Because flax oil is five times more stable, but it's also the ground material. I'm building the foundation here. The body can make EPA and DHA which fish oils contain, from flax oil, from alpha-linolenic acid in flax oil, but if you get fish oil, you still need the alpha-linolenic acid, because it's part of the membrane. And the EPA and DHA don't turn back into alpha-linolenic acid. You also have better metabolic control if your cells have better metabolic control, so they make EPA and DHA and the prostaglandins that they need where they need them, when they need them and how much they need them. My reason for using the essential fatty acids is to build the foundation.

Maybe a few people might need derivatives on top of that, but they need the foundation anyway. And a couple of tablespoons of oils is the foundation that is 10% of fat.

Is it palatable to eat?

If it's fresh, yes. If it has not been made with care, it becomes unpalatable. It gets very bitter, very scratchy which is another reason for lowering omega-3.

So, what is in your blend?

Flax, sunflower, sesame, rice germ, wheat germ oils and then medium-chain triglycerides, lecithin.

Can people use that for cooking?

Not for frying. You can use it on salads, you can mix it in yoghurt, you can put it in shakes, you can mix it with mashed potatoes, you can put it on hot cereals, I put it in the yolk of a soft boiled egg. From a health point of view, what I tell people is "if you want to fry, the only oil to fry with is water". I know that water is not an oil, but what it says is that you have to go back to steamed foods. You steam the food, put it on your plate and then you take the good oils and you put them on the food. That way you get the flavour enhancement from oil, you haven't burned the food, you haven't burned the oil and made them toxic and you get a source of essential fatty acids which gives you what your body actually needs.

No frying, no deep frying, no sauteeing. In fact, frying has for years been associated with hardening of the arteries, cancer and inflammatory diseases. It doesn't matter what fat you use, if you turn it into smoke, you change the chemistry and that changed chemistry does not work. The latest studies come from China, wok frying cooks have a higher rate of lung cancer and that study was then extended to the US and the cooks there who spend a lot of time frying stuff have a higher rate of lung cancer, just from breathing in the changed molecules.

There are all kinds of polyunsaturated oils being recommended, so there is a lot of information out which is not accurate. Anything you turn brown is toxic and if you stir fry and it turns brown, it's toxic. And you have had to turn the oil toxic by overheating it. So that's why water, where the temperature does not go above 100 degrees C – and 100 degrees C is okay for oil, if you don't expose them to high temperature in the presence of light and oxygen for a long time.

So your recommendation to people in terms of their cooking is not to use oils other than essential oils in their diet?

Let me put it this way. I know that what I say isn't what people are necessarily going to do. I tell them to get off the margarines and shortenings and the hydrogenated fats, I tell them not to fry, I tell them not to use supermarket oils that have been overheated. There is at least one study that shows that those oils change from mutation protective to mutation positive which concerns me greatly. I know that people are not going to immediately do that. So I say "you're going to do what you do – my job is to give you accurate information".

But I can tell you that if you get cancer and you want to take a natural approach to reversing cancer, frying is out, refined oils are out, margarines are out, sugar is out, the hard fats are out, and the only thing you should get is oils rich in essential fatty acids, minimally processed, unrefined with the minor ingredients still in them and rich in omega-3s. And that's standard for the degenerative diseases – cardiovascular, multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes, standard procedure. The reason why is because essential fatty acids make platelets less sticky, lower blood pressure, lower the other main risk factors for cardiovascular disease, are required for insulin function, while some other factors are required for immune function, are required for cell membrane integrity, are required for oxidation rate or oxygen metabolism, metabolic rate, stamina and energy levels.

That is important in health. They have lots of other functions in the skin, brain, digestive system, they are even required to transport cholesterol.

What about the proportion of omega-6 to omega-3? People will typically take evening primrose oil for an omega-6 oil, and then they would take fish oil or linseed oil as an omega-3. What do you think is the right proportion?

It depends on who you ask. The scientists who do the research studies in cell cultures think that 4:1 in favour of omega-6 is the right ratio and they do that on the basis of enzyme studies. The enzymes convert the omega-3s quicker than omega-6s. But in practice that is not what we find. We find people do better on a ratio that is 2:1 in favour of omega-3. Richer in omega-3. That may be in part because they get omega-6s from other parts of the diet.

Where are they getting the omega-6s?

Lots of oils have omega-6s – corn, soybean, walnut, peanut and almond, they all have omega-6, safflower, sunflower, sesame, so there are lots of omega-6 oils, not so many omega-3 oils. And those oils are used in prepared foods, and in all kinds of foods.

But you don't get EPA and DHA, you're not getting gamma linolenic acid?

No. Gamma linolenic acid - it's interesting – David Horrobin, who did most of the research on efamol – evening primrose oil – and has been involved in over 300 studies – was my mentor. I began to work and pursued some other people who had worked with omega-3 oils and I came to the conclusion that as much as I admire him, he picked the wrong one. The reason for that is that the research on evening primrose is done in an omega-3-deficient population and if it was done in an omega-3 sufficient population, I suspect it wouldn't look as interesting. And the bit of evidence I have for that is that we've taken people who were on evening primrose oil for PMS (premenstrual syndrome), taken them off and switched them either to flax or to a blend and they've got the same result. Not in all cases but in the majority of cases. We've taken people who are taking evening primrose oil because of arthritis and joint pain, and we've switched them to the other oils and got the same results. I have also seen people get worse on evening primrose oil.

What do you think the mechanism for that is?

My guess is that if you are already getting too many omega-6s and you add some more omega-6s, you can make the problem worse.

Especially if you are not getting the omega-3s. I had a talk with David Horrobin – he said "what do you find with omega-3 oils?" I said that besides that they lower high triglycerides very effectively, which you know, the three things we find is improved brain function, improved skin function and increased energy levels. And he's doing something with omega-3s. He also uses oils in much smaller doses. We use 2-3 tablespoons – he uses 4 – 6 gm which is 1 teaspoon. So we're talking about different setups too.

Do you advise people to take supplements rather than the oils? Because you can buy capsules.

In order to get 2 tablespoons of oil out of capsules, you have to take 28 of the big 1 gm capsules. That's a lot of capsules and they're expensive. One of the two distinctions between the essential fatty acids and the other essential nutrients is that you can't dry and powder essential fatty acids, stick them on a shelf and pick them up three years later with virtually no deterioration. They go rancid in a week if you don't protect them. The second thing is that we are not talking about milligram quantities, we are talking about tablespoons, we are talking about grams, we're talking about 28 gms in two tablespoons.

Are they supplements?

No, I don't call them supplements – they are foods, just like oils are foods. But they contain within them essential nutrients that the body has to have to grow.

How would people try to get these oils from their diet, apart from buying your blend?

Seeds and nuts contain them, nuts for omega-3s, sunflower and sesame seeds for omega-6s. Those three are also rich in the minor ingredients, which is why those are my favourites.

And what do you think about the oily fishes – mackerel, salmon, herring?

Mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines, salmon, rainbow trout – I use them, I eat sushi. I am less sympathetic to the capsules because they are a waste material. What they do is get the fish, fillet it and then throw the carcass and let it sit there for awhile and a week later they come along and pick it up and then they get the oil out and it's messy and it has to be cleaned up and then they are overheated and deodorised to make the fish oils that you get in capsules and they are so sensitive to rancidity that I have yet to get a fish oil capsule that did not taste rancid. The only fish oil that I've tasted that isn't rancid is sardines canned in sardine oil. That's the only fish oil that I've ever found so far and I try them all the time. The fishy taste that cod liver oil has and the fishy smell – that's not fishy – that's rancid, because fresh fish doesn't smell or taste like that.

So there are some issues there – the industry has not taken the care that we took when we made the omega-3 oils from seeds. The other issue is that the seed oils are easy to make – all you do is squeeze the seed and then you bottle them – a very simple process.

You have the minor ingredients and the essential fatty acids and you haven't had to do any of the processes that you have to do with fish.

Do you have any experience with using essential fatty acids for cancer?

Yes. The natural treatments for cancer that work best take about two years to reverse the cancer. It takes about 3-6 months for the tumour to regress, to disappear, but the detoxification that needs to happen takes longer, because cancer is the end stage of a body toxicity and just because the tumour is gone doesn't mean that the toxicity is gone.

You are involved in producing supplemental forms – nutritional supplements – enzymes, food products. Speaking about people eating things in their normal diet – presumably you still advocate people eating a very good diet as well as food products.

Certainly. When people want to take responsibility for their own health and do natural treatments, there are always three things that we recommend; one is to improve nutrient intake, second, is to get the toxic stuff out of the diet; and thirdly, to make sure that digestion works. The reasons for this is because all of the degenerative conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other inflammatory conditions have really two causes: one is that something that should be present in the biochemical interactions in the natural state is missing – or that something is present that shouldn't be there, internal pollution, or poisoning or toxicity. When you deal with those issues you improve nutrition and you detoxify.

This whole question of digestion is very controversial because the mainstream medical point of view would be that cooking food pre-digests them, makes food more easily assimilable.

It does to some extent.

Some people have a great deal of difficulty because their digestion is not good with eating raw food. Some foods need to be cooked – grains – unless you sprout. But there is much controversy among food experts – raw food versus the cooked food.

It is true that people who have poor digestion often cannot handle raw foods. They probably should introduce them over the course of six months to one year, gradually, rather than making switches. But when digestion isn't working, it's true to some extent that cooked foods are easier to digest. But then what we ought to do to make it really work is to cook the food, let it cool and then put back the enzymes and friendly bacteria that have been killed by the heat, mix them in and then eat them. I do that all the time and it works wonderfully well.

Digestion often fails, for it was designed for raw foods that partially self-digest. When you cook foods, you put a load on the digestive system that wasn't made for it. When we put that load on it the immune system appears to get involved and when the immune system gets involved in digestion, it lowers its capacity for dealing with viruses, fungi, bacteria and cancer cells. As if that is not enough we start to get undigested proteins absorbed, leading to food allergies and that involves the immune system even more. And then we get the inflammatory reactions and that can also lead to auto-immune reactions whereby an antibody made against an undigested food protein made from only seven or eight amino acids ends up attacking a body-own protein that has the same seven or eight amino acids.

So it's really important to make sure that foods are completely digested to prevent the immune system having to get involved and to prevent absorption of undigested material. When foods are completely digested, there is nothing left. Poor digestion leads both to malnutrition and to toxicity.

How do you know if you have poor digestion?

You have poor digestion. It's that simple. It catches up with people. By the time they are forty, if you get gas and bloating, that's a good sign, if you have inflammatory conditions, that's a good sign, if you get stomach cramps, if you get nausea after eating or get tired after eating, there are lots of symptoms. But you can pretty much count on it that if you are eating the so-called normal foods eaten in the UK.

You can bet that by the time you are 35 or 40 you will have digestive problems, because it catches up with you. By the time you are 50 you definitively have them and by the time you are 60 150% of the population has them.

Is it reversible?

All you need to do is to add back to the foods the enzymes that would have been there if the foods are raw, which takes a load off your digestive system, which thereby takes a load off your other allergies.

The second thing we do with the digestion and allergy problems is to add the essential fatty acids because they form a barrier in the intestine which prevents leaky gut, so it makes that better.

Also this slows down digestion time, so there is more time. Those two in combination work very well.

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About Sandra Goodman PhD and Mike Howell

Sandra Goodman PhD, Co-founder and Editor of Positive Health, trained as a molecular biology scientist in agricultural biotechnology in Canada and the US. She has focused upon health issues since the 1980s in the UK. Author of 4 books, including Nutrition and Cancer: State-of-the-Art, Vitamin C – The Master Nutrient, Germanium: The Health and Life Enhancer and numerous articles, Dr Goodman compiled the Cancer and Nutrition Database for the Bristol Cancer Help Centre in 1993. Dr Goodman is passionate about the necessity of making available to all people, particularly those with cancer, considerable clinical expertise in areas of nutrition and complementary therapies. She is a member of the Therapy Advisory Panel of the Bristol Cancer Help Centre, the Institute of Complementary Medicine (ICM) and a Patron of the Avalon Complementary Medicine Trust in Wells, Somerset. The third edition of Nutrition and Cancer: State-of-the-Art (updated 2003) has just been published. She may be contacted on sandra@positivehealth.com

Mike Howell
is a Co-Founder of Positive Health magazine. He may be contacted at mike@positivehealth.com

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