Fats Can Hurt or Heal Your Endometriosis
NOT ALL FATS ARE CREATED EQUAL
I used to think of fats as a basic macronutrient just like protein and carbs… they all broke down to do the same thing regardless of the type. Fat = Fat. Right? Wrong. Truth is, there are good/great/amazing/anti-inflammatory fats, then are rancid, chemical laden, and inflammatory fats. In fact, some fats nowadays are truly frightening. Created in labs and factories from crop seeds, these vegetable oils (without any vegetables) are actually the ones that will cause your body inflammation, pain, and even heart disease. Other fats, though, like the ones our ancestors ate, make our bodies strong, supple, and energized. They calm inflammation, they create perfect cellular membranes, and they fuel our bodies. Want to find out the difference? Read on.
FATS THAT HURT
REFINED VEGETABLE OILS
Refined vegetable seed oils are the worst thing you can put into your body, endometriosis or not. The science emerging shows these fats cause system wide inflammation, leading to everything from cancer to heart disease to chronic pain. This is a long discussion, and I wrote a detailed article all about it HERE, so if you don’t know about vegetable oils and how they hurt your body and exacerbate your endo, please make sure to read it pronto!
What are refined vegetable oils? The popular canola, grape seed, sunflower, safflower, corn, soy, and vegetable. (Note that sunflower and safflower oils aren't bad if they're cold pressed ... you will probably never find them cold pressed though).
So assuming you now know how detrimental these oils are to your endo body, I want to mention that avoidance of these oils goes beyond cooking with them, since they’re in so many processed foods. When I go to the health food store and check out all the brands, expensive or not, nearly every packaged item on the shelf is full of these oils since they’re, well, super cheap. So, be sure to read labels on things like bread, crackers, chips, baked goods, and condiments like salad dressings and mayonnaise. They’re often loaded with safflower, canola, corn, or soy oil. Even if they’re "organic" it’s just a fancy word to put in front of a foul ingredient. You know what else is organic? Poop. Sorry, that was crude elementary-school humor, but really: you shouldn’t eat poop just like you shouldn’t eat refined vegetable oils. Nuff said.
Instead, if you buy processed foods, look for alternative products that use ingredients made for high heat processing, like avocado or coconut oil. You can more often find chips, crackers, and condiments made with these today, although still check the label! Often they’ll still sneak in some veggie oil on the side.
LOW QUALITY OR RANCID FATS
Because you can buy fats and oils at any supermarket, it’s important to mention how vital it is that these fats are of a good quality. If you remember a few years back there was an undercover investigation that revealed olive oil fraud across the US, with bottles labelled extra virgin olive oil being filled with counterfeit or cheap oils, such as soybean, rancid olive oil, and even fish oils mixed with low grade olive-pomace oil. Gross.
Even though there were recalls and big headlines, contaminated oils still sit on shelves today. UC Davis did a study on olive oil, specifically, that laid out the brands that are still labelled extra-virgin, but fail to meet that standard (because of either rancidity, oxidation, adulteration with a cheaper oil mix, or a poor quality oil made from damaged olives). If you want to see the list, MamaNatural lays it out in an easy to read format HERE, a great reminder that we can’t simply trust the companies and stores selling us products with snazzy labels.
I recommend going the extra length and researching the companies with the highest integrity. They don’t have to be the most expensive (for example Kirkland olive oil made the pure olive oil cut, while Whole Foods olive oil was found contaminated), but it’s worth the extra effort to know the fats going in your body are healing instead of hurting.
FATS MIXED WITH SUGAR
One of the issues that skews the heart disease hypothesis in developed countries is that people are eating their fat with an ample dose of sugar, and sugar is a mass inflammation-producing culprit. As are refined veggie oils. So put them together and you have a high fat, high sugar bomb ready to react in your body. This is exactly what a high-fat diet should not look like.
Of course not everyone can resist a cupcake here or there (this picture actually is making my pregnant self want to run to the kitchen a bake a batch right now), so learning how to read labels will once again aid your healing journey so you can avoid cheap, inflammatory vegetable oils. Once you do that, you’ll hopefully start getting your sweet fixes at home from real grass-fed butter or coconut oil, almond flour, and chocolate.
POOR QUALITY SUPPLEMENTS
We have to talk about fish oils because, more often than not, people are being sold oxidized, rancid, contaminated, and poor quality oils as supplements. Ugh, I’m so tired of billion dollar industries taking advantage of us! But it’s happening, so let’s address this … especially for us endo girls who NEED omega-3’s to calm that rampant inflammation.
“You may have heard marine oils are a good source of the essential heart-healthy, brain-building omega-3 fatty acids, and it’s true. Unfortunately, trying to extract long-chain omega-3 fats out of living organisms while keeping their molecular structure intact is a little like trying to put lightning in a bottle” (Deep Nutrition). That’s because fish oil is a delicate polyunsaturated fat and, like the vegetable oils I speak of, is easily turned rancid by high heat processing. Rancid oil causes inflammation. So too do additives like soybean oil, often found in cheap fish oils. So if you take a fish oil pill that’s been heat processed you’re immediately doing more harm to your body than good.
Instead, aim to get your omega 3 needs from animal sources in their whole form! This has the least possible chance of oxidation. When omega 3’s don’t have to be separated from their food form, it maintains a perfect delivery system without as much chance of being oxidized. Think of cold water fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, fish roe, and even some grass-fed meat and dairy..
Fats that Heal
Animal Fats that are packed with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, + K2
Fat soluble means you need to consume these vitamins with fat in order to absorb them, and 3 of these are only found in animal fats: A, D, K2. I’ve mentioned before that when Weston Price studied traditional diets, he found these exceptionally healthy peoples consuming 10x the amount of fat soluble vitamins, something he saw Americans back home (in the 1930’s) extremely deficient in. You probably know all about vitamin D deficiency, but lesser known is the enormous deficiency in vitamin A and most people don’t even know what K2 is!
Vitamin A, first off, is absolutely essential and not to be confused with beta carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. Dr. Phil Maffetone writes “First, vitamin A is only found in animal foods. It’s a myth that plant foods are high in this nutrient. Instead, fruits and vegetables are high in a family of phytonutrients called carotenoids. The body must convert three of these compounds—beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin—to vitamin A. But in humans, this conversion is quite inefficient, with about 10 to 20 molecules of carotenoids needed to make one of vitamin A. In addition, 80 percent or more of natural vitamin A from animal sources is absorbed, but only three percent or less of carotenoids from plant foods are absorbed.” This isn’t to say beta carotene is bad, it’s actually an incredible nutrient as well!! It’s just too often us endo girls confuse the two on our endo diets, and then become severely deficient in vitamin A.
What does deficiency look like? Depending, it can be reduced immunity, poor night vision, chronic intestinal problems (your stomach and intestines require lots of vit A), liver disfunction, dry hair/skin/mucous membranes, chronic inflammation, acne, psoriasis, weak fingernails, and vitamin D deficiency. I had all of these, except the psoriasis.
That’s okay though because we can get vitamin A from healthy animal fats! The RDA is around 2,300 IU per day for women, and is easiest obtained from cod liver oil and liver, with additional amounts in pastured egg yolks, butter, ghee, lard, tallow, and grass-fed liver. I never recommend synthetic vitamin A, which can be toxic, and always recommend the real deal: food.
Vitamin D is synergistic with vitamin A, so you need both in healthy amounts in order to properly maintain both levels. So in order to retain your vitamin D, you need enough vitamin A, and simultaneously you can get vitamin D toxicity if you’re supplementing at high levels without getting vitamin A.
So many of us are vitamin D deficient, and scientists are now even linking vitamin D deficiencies directly to auto immune disorders! The best way to get D is obviously the sun, and without sunscreen. If you’re white, you only need some 20 minutes a day of direct sunlight to meet this requirement. If you're at the darkest end of the skin spectrum, well, you might need 2 hours. But of course it depends on where you live in the world, and what season it is, so check out this Vitamin D Council page that lays it out easily for all you girls out there :)
For those of you who know you need some supplementation, animal fats are a great option. That’s how our ancestors did it, you know, before we could pop into a pharmacy and get some vitamins. Pastured lard, egg yolks, cold water fish, and liver are all exceptional sources of vitamin D. If you find you have to supplement, just make sure you only consume Vitamin D3, and D2 — the cheaper version also used to fortify orange juice and milk — is now being shown to be toxic.
Vitamin K2 is the third fat-soluble vitamin synergistic with A and D, forming a sort of fat-soluble tri-fecta. K2 is an amazing vitamin because it helps us actually utilize minerals. It's the vitamin that can even help you re-mineralize your teeth if you have cavities.
And since K2 is not to be confused with K1 (which is found in plants), you need to eat animal sources such as fish roe, grass-fed cheeses and butter, egg yolks, liver, and butter.
Ancestral fats heal your cell membranes
Every cell in your body is covered in a layer of fat and protein, called the lipo-protein layer, which is absolutely essential because it separates each cell in your body from the outside world. That’s why fat is critical, because it surrounds and protects all of the cell membranes which allow for the exchange of nutrients and wastes. It is necessary for these membranes to be in top working condition, in order for the brain and body to be at its maximum functioning potential. If you’re not eating enough fats or the right kind, the integrity of this layer is compromised, meaning it’s hard to get nutrients in and waste out. What happens to the cell health if it can’t eat or poop? Yup, it gets sick and tired, and so do you.
The fats that make up your cell membranes are a mix of saturated fats, unsaturated fats, essential fatty acids (think omega 3 and 6), and cholesterol. Hence getting a balance of all 4 is imperative to both human and animal health. Cholesterol, for example, maintains a strong cell wall integrity. Imagine a house made of wood versus one made from particle board, which would you prefer?
In this really cool article, Dr. Dan explains “anyone who has a neurodegenerative disorder, this includes Autism, Multiple Sclerosis, Diabetes, Optic Neuritis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s Disease, ALS, Manic Depression, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is most likely lacking in “good fats” and overloaded in “bad fats”. Bad fats obviously being vegetable oils and trans fats. No, for cells to be in tip top shape, you need to be eating a healthy amount of ancestral fats and cholesterol.
Eating cholesterol will help balance your hormones
Think of cholesterol as a nutrient, akin to a vitamin or mineral, that your body needs as an ingredient for all sorts of chemical reactions. An important one to remember for us endo girls, cholesterol is the precursor (main ingredient) for stress hormones, which include your cortisol, adrenaline, and sex hormones like progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. When you’re stressed (or eating a lot of carbohydrates — same system) your body uses all your cholesterol to make cortisol, and your sex hormones go to the wayside. And, for us endo girls with the WORST PMS IN THE WHOLE WORLD EVER, that’s one huge blinking light pointing to progesterone deficiency.
The cool thing is, you can bring down your stress levels immediately by employing a higher fat diet (again, read my post on Blood Sugar and Endo), and additionally start feeding your body the nutrients it needs to start producing more progesterone. Yes, you can use a supplemental progesterone cream to kind of get similar results in the short-term, but in the long-term this will be a part of your hormonal balancing solution that will actually help heal your endo. That’s why the fertility diet I recommend has liberal amounts of saturated fats and egg yolks, because your body needs these nutrients to pump out the right mix of hormones to get you back on track.
Now, now, now ... if you’re glaring at the computer right now muttering that your issue as an endo girl is too much estrogen and you’re not about to feed it nutrients to make that, let me explain. The main reason why our bodies are so often estrogen dominant is not because your body is producing way too much -- Yes the endo implants produce some extra estrogen, but our bodies, if healthy, should be able to process it out through our detoxification pathways. Rather, us endo girls often have severe issues with our livers, which can’t properly detoxify and dispose of that estrogen. That means it keeps circulating when it should be in the garbage disposal. Which leads us to...
Eating cholesterol will also help you better detoxify and digest fat!
Want to know how you get that garbage disposal working properly? One way is to … eat more cholesterol! The digestive system is complex so let me try to simplify it here: your liver processes all of your hormones and throws out the ones it no longer needs through your bile. This bile is stored in your gall bladder, and every time you eat fatty foods is squirted into your intestines. Here it has 2 duties, to a) to emulsify and absorb the fat, and b) stick the toxins in your “garbage shoot” where you will eliminate them later in the toilet. That means if you’re not properly making bile or digesting fat, you’re also not properly eliminating waste, which is why we need to get your liver and gall bladder functioning properly.
Why cholesterol, then? Because it’s one of the main ingredients for bile! You want healthy, sleek, oily bile that can easily be “flushed”. Instead, most of us have sticky, gooey, toxic bile from years of low fat diets or poor fat/veggie oil diets. A great starting therapy, therefor, is to eat lots of cholesterol rich foods while you heal to bring this detoxifying bile back to life. And hey, a prescription of eggs fried in butter or rich Sunday roasts is a lot better than a gross pharmaceutical pill, right??
If you have more questions about fat digestion, make sure to check out my Troubleshooting Page.