According to a 2020 study, soybean oil — the most commonly consumed oil in America — caused gene dysregulation in mice which led to neurological problems, particularly in their ability to bond, and weight gain.

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Recently we dubbed vegetable oil ‘one of the worst things you can eat’, and also included vegetable-oil-laden processed food as one of the main foods that make you ugly. Processed food has been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks, as a result of a new documentary that aired on the BBC last night. For a period of a month, a British doctor conducted a self-experiment by eating a diet composed of 80% processed food, a diet consumed by as much as two-thirds of the adult population in the UK. 

The shocking results of the doctor’s experiment included serious weight gain, piles, anxiety, sleeplessness, loss of libido and, most shockingly of all, changes to the structure of his brain considered to be typical of drug addicts. Weeks after the experiment ended, scans revealed that the neurological changes had not been reversed. The doctor is now quite literally hard-wired to want to eat processed food.

The serious negative health effects of vegetable oil consumption, with a particular focus on deep physical changes, have been a subject of much discussion over the past few days on Twitter, as a study from 2020 on soybean consumption did the rounds.

Soybean Oil and Shocking Results

As the study notes, there has ‘been a 1000-fold increase in the consumption of soybean oil in the United States during the 20th century.’ Studies, including by the authors of this particular study, have already shown that soybean oil is obesogenic – causes obesity – in mice and, echoing the British doctor’s self-experiment, that it causes deeper physiological changes, including to the expression of hundreds of genes in the livers of mice.

It’s worth noting that this research is part of a general shift away from a model of obesity focusing on saturated fat and cholesterol consumption, to consumption of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), which for at least 70 years have been pushed as ‘healthy’ alternatives to ‘unhealthy’ animal fats. One of the key figures in this move away from consumption of the fats that have sustained our ancestors since time immemorial was Ancel Keys, and we have discussed his shoddy science and hucksterism in detail in our article about vegetable oil.

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Ancel Keys, the fake expert responsible for one of the greatest shifts in dietary habits in history

Given the involvement of the hypothalamus, a network within the brain, in regulating nutritional intake and causing behavioural and metabolic changes in response to the availability of food, the researchers hypothesised that soybean oil might cause changes to the expression of genes responsible for this area of the brain (i.e. how these genes work).

Four groups of mice were fed different isocaloric diets (diets with the same number of calories). One group was fed a diet that contained conventional soybean oil, high in linoleic acid; the second, a diet that contained genetically modified soybean oil that was low in linoleic acid; the third, a diet that contained coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat; the fourth was given a low-fat control diet.

The researchers noted that the two soybean diets had similar but non-identical effects on expression of genes for the hypothalamus, whereas the coconut oil had a negligible effect compared to the control diet. 

Among the genes that were dysregulated by the soybean-oil diets were genes associated with inflammation, neuroendocrine, neurochemical, and insulin signalling, as well as the production of oxytocin, an important hormone. As the Twitter poster above noted, oxytocin is involved in empathy and social bonding, as well as other important biological processes including weight gain. Many of the genes that were dysregulated by the soybean oils are also linked to neurological diseases including Alheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and autism.

Insulin resistance, a topic we have recently covered in two articles (here and here), was increased by the soybean diets, and the mice on the conventional soybean oil experienced the greatest amount of weight gain, despite consuming the same amount of calories as the others.

The researchers conclude: 

‘All told, our results demonstrate that different dietary oils can have differential effects on hypothalamic gene expression and raise the possibility that the SO-rich American diet may be not only contributing to increased rates of metabolic disease but also affecting neurological function.’

Mens sana (ed: I think you mean, men’s sauna…)

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The study provides yet more powerful evidence in favour of returning, if you haven’t already, to the foods that have sustained us and our ancestors since time immemorial. Not industrially produced oils and plant-based ‘meat’ – which producers, who are seeing falling profits, are already realising will require massive social pressure if they are to succeed – but the superior nutrition of high-quality animal-based products.

As this study shows, even scientific researchers are now coming to see the wisdom of the ancient formula mens sana in corpore sano: a sound mind in a sound body. If you’re interested further in the interaction between gut and brain, try this recent article on why sugar appears to harm brain development during adolescence.

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