Are These Common Cooking Oils Harming Your Gut Microbiome?

7 Jul 2023

Medical advice regarding cooking oils is finally coming a full circle. And ironically it is by the same kind of research establishments that originally took the world for a ride. Yes, after decades of tarnishing one of the healthiest cooking oils – coconut oil – for its saturated nature, and after extolling the endless virtues of polyunsaturated vegetable oils like soybean & corn oils, the American medical research establishment is finally admitting that they had got it wrong.

The biohacking bestseller, ‘The Making of a Superhuman’ by noted wellness evangelist and biohacker Sajeev Nair was one of the first detailed works that stuck its head out in this regard and painstakingly explained why coconut oil is one of the healthiest cooking oils, whereas these new breed of polyunsaturated vegetables oils like from soy and corn are among the unhealthiest choices.

Now, a new research study by a team of scientists at University of California, Riverside, has come as strong additional vindication for the stand that Sajeev Nair took in his biohacking classic. This research team found that soybean oil, one of the most commonly used cooking oils in the US, India, China, Brazil and other parts of the world, may be killing off various beneficial gut bacteria and causing the proliferation of harmful bacteria like adherent invasive E. coli in the gut.

This study, published recently in the noted journal ‘Gut Microbes’, further explains that the proliferation of harmful bacteria like adherent invasive E. coli is one of the main causes behind inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and especially its ulcerative colitis variant. Additionally, high linoleic acid consumption has been found to cause leaky gut, which is another risk factor for colitis. Population studies done separately in the US had already found that the rising incidence of IBD is correlated with the soaring consumption of soybean oil.

The researchers also found that the main culprit in soybean oil is linoleic acid, which is ironically an essential fatty acid belonging to the Omega-6 family. Essential fatty acids are those fats that the body needs on a daily basis, but which it cannot synthesise on its own. But the body needs only 1-2% of calories to come from linoleic acid, whereas a diet in which soybean oil is the primary cooking oil delivers 8-10% of energy from linoleic acid, which is the factor damaging the gut microbiome composition.

Since linoleic acid is the primary culprit here, corn oil that contains an equal amount of linoleic acid as soybean oil, has also been called out by this research team as a potential threat to the gut microbiome. Other vegetable oils popular in India like sunflower oil and safflower oil are also equally high in linoleic acid. It should also be noted that all these oils are often consumed by users without actually being aware of it. Even if they are not used directly for cooking, these oils are abundantly used in most processed foods, restaurant dishes and bakery items for their cheapness, bland flavour and the superior texture they impart to these foods.

Hence, the study emphasised the need to eliminate or reduce processed foods to the minimum, as well as a switch to healthier cooking oils like olive oil , coconut oil and avocado oil. Coconut oil may be the best oil in this regard as it contains only 2% linoleic acid as against 3-21% in olive oil and 6-12% in avocado oil. The suggestion to use coconut oil is something revolutionary as it is coming from a US based research study that was funded by grants from the US National Institutes of Health, Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, American Gastroenterological Association, and other such premier American bodies, that for long had endorsed the erroneous view that coconut oil is a most unhealthy oil.

This study also shed light on additional ways in which vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid may be harming the body. For instance, excessive linoleic acid consumption was found to reduce endocannabinoids in the gut, which are natural anti-inflammatory molecules, even while it increased the pro-inflammatory oxylipins in the gut. Interestingly, an increase in oxylipins have been implicated in obesity, apart from its role in colitis. Rising soybean oil usage has also been implicated earlier in several diseases including diabetes, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, and depression.

Vieroots EPLIMO is a practical biohacking solution developed based on the personalised epigenetic lifestyle modification strategy detailed in Sajeev Nair’s work, ‘The Making of a Superhuman’. It uses a detailed genetic test and a comprehensive metabolic assessment to find the risk factors for 250+ lifestyle diseases that include diabetes, obesity, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, hypertension, cancers, cardiovascular diseases etc, years or decades before they actually develop. EPLIMO also provides personalised lifestyle modifications that can keep these diseases at bay. For example, EPLIMO has been delivering personalised diets that suggest avoiding vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid and the adoption of healthy oils like coconut oil and olive oil, for three years now, much before this study came.

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