The Six Paramitas

by Dr Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet

As we deepen our inquiry into the nature of our culture, and how we can best help liberate animals, our Earth, and ourselves from the harmful actions and attitudes causing conflict and destruction, we may begin to realize that the problem is not just other people. We ourselves are part of the problem also. How many people can we actually and substantively change for the better? Quite honestly that number is one.

Cow by visionary artist Madeleine TuttleThis is not to say that we can’t help move our world and other people in a positive direction, but rather to emphasize that this capacity is, paradoxically, a result essentially of our authentic efforts to move ourselves in a positive direction. Most of us, when encountering someone who would like to “improve” us will wisely act to block that effort. Thus, in the end, the most effective way to change others and the world is to endeavor to embody and exemplify in ourselves whatever changes we’d like to see in others.

Substantive positive personal change requires inner effort to question the obsolete and harmful attitudes living within us, to understand them, and to heal them through the effort to cultivate a higher and more inclusive and realistic awareness. We have all been wounded from infancy be being born into a herding culture based on the exploitation and abuse of the weak by the strong. In order to build a movement capable of transforming our culture, we are called to undertake the most challenging of all efforts: the effort to transform ourselves.

Grassroots vegan advocacy starts with us as individuals in our communities, endeavoring to become more aware and proficient in our understanding, and in our ability to communicate and cooperate with others. This is the indispensible foundation of the movement to liberate animals, and all of us, from the status quo culture of domination that steals and destroys the sovereignty of both animals and people.

Large non-profit organizations, unlike grassroots efforts, tend to be reductionist and authoritarian in nature. Ironically, herderism, the living core of our cultural mindset and root of our problems, is similarly reductionist and authoritarian, but in the extreme. (If we were born as cows or chickens, we would have no doubt of this.) Thus the large animal protection organizations exist ironically as products of the herding culture and tend to mirror and support its underlying mentality and way of functioning. These organizations compete with one another for funding, and operate under centralized hierarchical structures of authority. The living transformation of vegan awakening tends in their hands to be reduced to a commodity to be marketed by compliant leafletters and spokespeople whose job is to deliver a message that has been crafted by public relations “experts.” Such an approach is ironically an expression of the same mind-set that is creating the problem of animal exploitation in the first place. It tends to muffle the authentic creative voices of individuals who have unique talents and gifts to share.

Bobcats by visionary artist Madeleine TuttleThus, to continually invent and renew a movement for the liberation of animals, we are each called, as individuals, to embody as best we can the change we are working for, and diligently monitor and refresh our organizations to ensure they reflect this same spirit. While going vegan is a liberating, healing, and empowering step for us as individuals, and naturally helps heal and improve our interconnected society, it is not the last step. In many ways, it is the first step of a life where we awaken from being a mere culturally-programmed bio-robot, and step out of the prison of the imposed food narrative of disease and destruction and its many manifestations. Our journey beckons us to continue ever on, so that our inner world, like our outer behavior, ever more fully reflects our core values of respect, kindness, freedom, and harmony.

This is the real challenge we all face. It’s much easier and more tempting to blame others (such as political figures, financial elites, and so on) for our problems than it is to work with our internalized attitudes and wounds. And yet, it is only to the degree that we transform ourselves—so that our lives are radiant expressions of the message we would like others to hear—that we will experience our full potential to bring healing and positive change to our world. As the vegan movement becomes increasingly a movement of people who are authentically doing the inner work necessary to explore and purify our individual consciousness, our movement, through this, is becoming increasingly unstoppable.

Satyagraha, the “truth power” that Gandhi described, is ultimately triumphant, and the best way to spread truth is through embodying it so that we plant seeds of change naturally and effectively, with means that reflect the ends we envision. While we don’t try to change others, we can definitely do our best to plant seeds of positive change in others by making these changes congruent in ourselves, so our actions, words, values, thoughts, feelings, and gestures are all aligned within us and people sense this congruency.

How do we make these positive internal changes? With practice. Like with anything else, we become what we practice. The ancient wisdom traditions have many practices that have helped people heal and renew their minds and lives. These practices can be especially helpful for us in contributing to a vegan world of respect and kindness for all.

Horse by visionary artist Madeleine TuttleOne example is the Six Paramitas from the Buddhist tradition, also called the Six Perfections. Paramita in Sanskrit means “crossing over,” so these six Paramitas are qualities that we can cultivate every day to help us cross over to the other shore of greater awareness and freedom. One way to practice them is to focus on a different paramita each day of the week. What follows is the Six Paramitas practice for all seven days, with a short explanation for each one, which is best recited every morning to set the intention for the day.

Monday, The Day of Giving: Dana Paramita. Let us have all-pervading love, not only for people but for all sentient beings, and give of ourselves and our possessions freely and without regret, with a heart of lovingkindness. Let our giving be rooted in transcendent awareness, knowing the three elements involved are of one essence. Finally, let us remember that the teachings contain no greater wisdom than the wisdom of letting go. This is also called Dana. (Note: the three elements mentioned here are giver, gift, and receiver)

Tuesday, The Day of Ethics: Sila Paramita. Let us maintain standards of discipline, etiquette, and decorum so that our actions are honorable in every situation, and thinking of others always, let us be careful not to harm them in any way. Let us cultivate the natural integrity, diligence, and straightforwardness that fundamental aspects of clear seeing and real virtue.

Bee by visionary artist Madeleine TuttleWednesday, The Day of Patience: Kshanti Paramita. Let us treat all beings as the Buddha, seeing through the spell of appearance to the essential reality in which there is no fundamentally separate self. Let us remember that patience is humility, a basic acceptance of this present moment as the perfect unfoldment of life and love, and that it is also an accurate mirror of our present state of mind, and thus continuously bears great opportunities to grow in wisdom and compassion.

Thursday, the Day of Zealous Effort: Virya Paramita. Whatever is appropriate, let us perform it diligently and persistently push forward. Let us be aware of the Source of all energy and activity, and live in harmony with it.

Friday, the Day of Stillness and Stability of Mind: Dhyana Paramita. Let us function in tranquil one-pointedness of mind, free from agitation arising through the senses, and dualistic conceptions of this and that, self and other. Let us let go of tension and separateness, and realize the equanimity that is born of awakening to the truth underlying phenomena.

Saturday, the Day of Wisdom: Prajna Paramita. Let us act so that the mind is always pure and bright, and behave so that we are never uncertain about the rightness of our actions. By the brightness of inherent wisdom, let us dispel the delusion of separateness, and greed and hatred, which spring from ignorance about the real nature of sense objects.

Sunday, the Day of Service: Simultaneous Practice of all the Paramitas. Let us put all forms of wholesome action into practice, by rendering service to others and practicing generosity, loving speech, beneficial action, and cooperativeness. May lovingkindness and compassion emanate from our every thought, word, and deed, and bless all sentient beings, and may they all realize the original brightness of their minds and be instantly reborn in the Pure Land of clear seeing.

In conclusion, with this Six Paramitas practice, the idea is daily to recite and feel into the essential nature of the quality of mind and heart that is being evoked by this day’s Paramita, and to hold it in consciousness throughout the day as best we can. Gradually, and with persistent practice, all six Paramitas will begin to suffuse their healing presenceElephants by visionary artist Madeleine Tuttle into our awareness in all seven days. We begin to realize that vegan living, nonviolence, respect for animals and other humans, and spiritual liberation are all profoundly interconnected. As we endeavor to embody the universal principles indicated by the six Paramitas, we are working at the roots to help build a more kind and harmonious world for all.




Everything You Think You Know About Animals Is Wrong

Came up in conversation recently, worth a repost…

Everything you think you know about animals is wrong  

by Sophie McAdam in the True Activist

32591_400243056747447_1374908357_n-300x221Human beings are the most intelligent, and therefore important, of all the world´s species, right? We deserve our superior status over other animals because of the following scientific truths: that only humans are self-aware and feel empathy, that we are unique in our abilities to use language and tools, that only we can recognize ourselves in a mirror and understand the passing of time.

But advances in cognitive ethology (the scientific study of animal intelligence, emotions, behaviors, and social life) have now disproved these ´truths´, showing that many other creatures also display a complex range of emotions, highly evolved communication skills, compassion for others, and even intelligence that rivals- or surpasses- our own. These ground-breaking studies force us to ask some uncomfortable questions about our place in the world, and have caused leading experts to call for a radical rethink of the way we treat other animals.

Communicative mice, kindly rats and compassionate chickens

Among the findings are that yes, fish do feel pain , and not only that but acidic water actually makes them nervous. Chickens are not only very intelligent, they can also feel  each other´s pain and demonstrate physiological signs of concern and distress at the suffering of their young.

Similar conclusions were drawn in a cruel study of mice who were doused in acid. Not only were the empathic rodents more sensitive to the pain of their peers than to their own agony, but researchers also suggested they “might be talking to each other” about their pain, too. Take a moment to let that sink in….

And while rats don´t have the best of reputations, there is much research to suggest they too are compassionate, communicative and highly intelligent. One group of scientists found that, given the choice, rats prefer to free others from a cage rather than help themselves to candy. What´s more, the rats had not been taught to open the cages in advance. Researcher Peggy Mason noted: “That was very compelling … It said to us that essentially helping their cagemate is on a par with chocolate. He can hog the entire chocolate stash if he wanted to, and he does not. We were shocked.”

Older studies from the 1950s and 60s found that both rats and rhesus monkeys will refuse to pull a food lever if it results in an electric shock for another group member. One monkey went without food for 12 days rather than hurt one of his peers. Another researcher who was attempting to free two baby mice trapped in a sink noted how the stronger rodent showed concern for his exhausted friend, even carrying food to him until he was strong enough to move.

Some of the most heart-warming tales of expressive love and empathy come from the great apes, our closest relatives. Moral philosopher Mark Rowlands recounts the following:

Chimps in the Cameroon mourn the passing of their friend Dorothy, October 2009. But why does this ´human-like´behavior surprise us? CREDIT: Monica Szczupider, Daily Mail

Chimps in the Cameroon mourn the passing of their friend Dorothy, October 2009. But why does this ´human-like´behavior surprise us? CREDIT: Monica Szczupider, Daily Mail

“Binti Jua, a gorilla residing at Brookfield Zoo in Illinois, had her 15 minutes of fame in 1996 when she came to the aid of a three-year-old boy who had climbed on to the wall of the gorilla enclosure and fallen five meters onto the concrete floor below. Binti Jua lifted the unconscious boy, gently cradled him in her arms, and growled warnings at other gorillas that tried to get close. Then, while her own infant clung to her back, she carried the boy to the zoo staff waiting at an access gate.”

He also tells the story of Kuni, a captive Bonobo chimpanzee in the UK: “One day, Kuni encountered a starling that had been stunned during some misadventure. Kuni picked up the starling with one hand, and climbed to the top of the highest tree in her enclosure, wrapping her legs around the trunk so that she had both hands free to hold the bird. She then carefully unfolded its wings and spread them wide open. She threw the bird as hard as she could towards the barrier of the enclosure. Unfortunately, it didn’t wake up, and landed on the bank of the enclosure’s moat. While her rescue attempt didn’t succeed, Kuni certainly seemed to act with good intentions, and tried to make amends by guarding the vulnerable, unconscious bird from a curious juvenile for quite some time.”

Love, empathy…and some strange animal friendships

Rowlands argues that humans absolutely do not have the monopoly on moral behavior (if we ever did). The sheer number of incredible stories to back up his claim is impossible to detail in one article, but here are some more examples, summarized by Marc Bekoff Ph.D, award-winning scientist, author and co-founder of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals : “A teenage female elephant nursing an injured leg is knocked over by a teenage male. An older female sees this happen, chases the male away, and goes back to the younger female and touches her sore leg with her trunk. Eleven elephants rescue a group of captive antelope in KwaZula-Natal; the matriarch elephant undoes all of the latches on the gates of the enclosure with her trunk and lets the gate swing open so the antelope can escape. A male Diana monkey who learned to insert a token into a slot to obtain food helps a female who can’t get the hang of the trick, inserting the token for her and allowing her to eat the food reward. A female fruit-eating bat helps an unrelated female give birth by showing her how to hang in the proper way. A cat named Libby leads her elderly deaf and blind dog friend, Cashew, away from obstacles and to food. In a group of chimpanzees at the Arnhem Zoo in The Netherlands individuals punish other chimpanzees who are late for dinner because no one eats until they’re all present.”

Animals can have surprising bedfellows CREDIT: xaxor.com

Animals can have surprising bedfellows
CREDIT: xaxor.com

“Do these examples show that animals display moral behavior, that they can be compassionate, altruistic, and fair?” Asks Bekoff. “Yes, they do. Animals not only have a sense of justice, but also a sense of empathy, forgiveness, trust, reciprocity, and much more as well.” Interestingly, he adds, these “good emotions can be shared by improbable friends, including predators and prey such as a cat and a bird, a snake and a hamster, and a lioness and a baby oryx.” Other cases of strange friendships include a cheetah and a retriever, a lion and a coyote, a dog and a deer, a goat and a horse, and even a tortoise and a goose. Cats have been known to adopt and feed chicks and baby hedgehogs, while one recent case centered on a disabled dolphin who was adopted by a family of sperm whales.

It seems that compassion has no boundaries. Clearly, co-operation in the animal kingdom is not only common, it´s a crucial survival strategy which humans would be wise to learn from. Charles Darwin himself wrote: “Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts…would inevitably acquire a moral sense of conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed…as in man.”

Is this what is happening now, throughout the animal kingdom? According to experts, all birds and mammals, as well as octopuses and too many other species to list, appear to be a whole lot smarter than we ever gave them credit for. The following is an excerpt from the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness (a prestigious, official recognition of animal sentience) signed in England in 2012 by 15 leading scientists, and overseen by Stephen Hawking himself.

“The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving…and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field…Birds appear to offer a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex.”

Superhuman chimps…and crows

A Caledonian crow called Betty demonstrated human-like intelligence a few years ago by making complicated hooked tools from bits of wire to fish items out of tubes. To put this into perspective, it´s something chimpanzees (and most humans) are unable to do.

And like Betty, chimpanzees are also cleverer than us in some areas. In a Japanese study to test short-term memory, numbers were shown on a computer screen before being hidden by white squares. The five-year-old chimpanzees (who were taught to count from 1-9 in advance) beat adult humans hands-down in remembering where each number was hidden. Another study of long-term memory in chimpanzees also gave impressive results, proving the average human is not so special after all.

Apes can also learn and understand sign language, and there is evidence that parrots don´t just repeat words; they also understand meaning. Dogs who wait patiently by the door five minutes before their owners return from work are not only expressing an awareness of time, but evidence of a sixth sense too (as a side note, canines even align themselves to the Earth´s magnetic field when doing their business). Scientists have also recently discovered that not only are dolphins math geniuses,

Teenage dolphins have been filmed ´getting high´ on pufferfish..it´s not big but it is clever CREDIT: deviantart.net

Teenage dolphins have been filmed ´getting high´ on pufferfish..it´s not big but it is clever
CREDIT: deviantart.net

but that juveniles also like to chew and pass around pufferfish for no other reason than to ´get high´ with their buddies- not dissimilar from rebellious youth behavior in our own species!

Furthermore, magpies, dolphins, great apes and elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror just like us, and many studies show a clear awareness of death in some species. One of the most compelling (and tragic) from Bekoff´s colleague Jane Goodall is detailed here. The behavior of this young chimp who lost his mother and died three days later of a broken heart leaves no room for doubts about his understanding of death.

Depression, grief and mourning affect many animals in exactly the same way as us

Other researchers from Kyoto university witnessed two grieving chimpanzee mothers carrying their dead infants for 68 and 19 days respectively after death, as though they couldn´t bear to say goodbye. To Berkoff, it´s simply “arrogant and wrong” to assume we are the only species in which grief has evolved: the only part we don´t yet know is the why. Elephants are especially known to grieve after the loss of a loved one. They mourn the dead by touching the bones or circling the body. Some researchers have suggested they may even relive memories and understand death in just the same way we do.

Videos of animals exhibiting ´human-like behavior´ have gone viral on YouTube. Among them are a herd of buffaloes who get ´revenge´ on a pride of lions, a heroic dog who risked his life to drag his unconscious companion from the freeway, a baby elephant who cried real tears for five hours after his mother attacked and rejected him, and a cat mourning the loss of a friend.

But skeptics warn against anthropomorphism, the misguided attribution of human-like qualities to animals. They claim we must always look for another, more basic, explanation before claiming other creatures are as complex as us. A skeptic might suggest, for example, that if a rat does not want to hear its companion being tortured, this is simply because the rat is averse to the sound of squealing. Rowlands offers a good debunking of this kind of argument, though. He points out that he, too, is averse to the screams of a tortured man, but it is precisely because he feels empathy that the sound is so unbearable.

“It´s widely accepted that many animals display and feel a wide array of emotions including joy, happiness, pleasure, love, empathy, compassion, sadness and profound grief,” Bekoff states. But, he argues, these are not human expressions at all, they are animal expressions. And the reason we share them with so many other species is because we are animals too, whether we like to admit it or not. “We must never forget that our emotions are the gifts of our ancestors, our animal kin,” Bekoff points out.

Animal rights….or Animal equality?

Yet historically, mankind has always treated animals with great disrespect and cruelty, as nothing more than chattel to be exploited for food, work, ´sport´, protection, entertainment and experimentation. Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike all teach that humans were given the right to use (and abuse) God´s lesser creatures, rather than preaching a sense of responsibility and stewardship towards them. The idea that we are not alone in feeling pain, anxiety, shame and depression is therefore highly uncomfortable for humans. If we accept this, how can we continue to treat animals as we do, or go on believing we are superior?

And in any case, some may ask what right we have to superiority? We are the most destructive and violent species on Earth. As animal rights activist Steven Best rightly argues: “We cannot overlook an amazing paradox. It is an odd but revealing phenomenon that a species which so arrogantly prides itself in its alleged unique skills in reason and communication has not yet attained an accurate understanding of itself. This advanced “intelligence” of humans, moreover, is in the advanced stages of exterminating our closest biological relatives, along with millions of other animal and plant species, thereby ensuring that Homo sapiens will die as it was born – in ignorance of its own nature and the other animal species vital for an accurate self-understanding.”

It´s not what we want to hear, but maybe it´s what we need to hear. But where next? Berkoff is more positive. “We need to work for a science of peace and emphasize the positive, pro social side of other animals and ourselves. It’s truly who we and other animals are.

“People who claim nonhuman animals are inherently aggressive and warlike are wrong,” he goes on. “When they use information from animal studies to justify our own cruel, evil behavior, they’re not paying attention to what we really know about the social life of animals. Do animals fight with one another? Yes. Do they routinely engage in cruel, warlike behavior? Not at all. When people say, ýou´re behaving like an animal, it´s actually a compliment.”

Berkoff adds that we also need to “debunk the myth of human exceptionalism once and for all. It’s a hollow, shallow, and self-serving perspective on who we are…of course we are exceptional in various arenas, as are other animals.”

Sophie is an award-winning feature writer, investigative journalist, campaigner and author. She is a staff writer for True Activist on issues of peace, justice, society, environment and activism. You can find out more or contact her here.




The London Bombings July 7th 2005

londonbombings1The annual reposting of this article provides perspectives that can help analysing current events that mirror it, i.e. bombings and suicide attacks. Suicide Bombers and the Promise of Heaven? provides additional essential perspectives on suicide bombing.

July 7th is the anniversary of the London Bombings. Any mention in the mainstream media will probably be along the lines of reinforcing the official narrative and justification for the, as the July Seventh Truth Campaign describes it, ‘imposition of Draconian new legislation that criminalises protest, dissent and opposition to the government, its policies and the way in which it enforces them.’

On the 7th of July 2005 London was hit by a series of explosions.  56 people were killed and 700 injured.  You probably think you know what happened that day, but you probably don’t.  From the onset of their investigation, the police chose to withhold from the public almost every bit of evidence they claimed to have and have provably lied about several aspects of the London Bombings. The mainstream news willfully spread false, unsubstantiated and unverifiable information, while choosing to completely ignore the numerous inconsistencies and discrepancies in the official story. The government eventually, after a year, presented their official ‘narrative’ concerning the event. Within hours it was shown to contain numerous errors, a fact since admitted by the then Home Secretary John Reid. They have continuously rejected calls for a full, independent public inquiry. Tony Blair himself described such an inquiry as a ‘ludicrous diversion’. What don’t they want us to find out?  Possibly one of the best documentaries of the day is no longer available on Youtube, surprise surprise, but can be found here.

July Seventh Truth Campaign provides comprehensive (very comprehensive) research into the events of that day. Their website is an essential resource for understanding the issues. J7 have been campaigning for a full public inquiry, in the name of peace, truth and justice, and dedicated to all the innocent victims, injured and their families.

2005_London_Bombing‘The Magic Bomb Theory’ challenges the validity of the official accounts specifically regarding the train bombing.  The Cambridge Evening News article mentioned in ‘The Magic Bomb Theory’, entitled ‘I was in tube bomb carriage – and survived’ is available here.

The Center for Research on Globalisation hosts pages of analysis and reports from a variety of credentialed sources, which are invaluable in balancing official reports and responses with behind the scenes information and pertinent questions.

Alex Jones’ London Bombing Data page is a compilations of articles from a variety of sources on the events of the day, and under-publicised developments thereafter.

In May 2012, after months of hearing evidence at the inquests into the bombings, the coroner ruled that the 52 people were killed “unlawfully” by suicide bombers.

Lady Justice Hallett said the evidence “does not justify the conclusion that any failings of any organisation or individual caused or contributed to the deaths”.

She ruled that the evidence relating to each of the 52 victims “leads to only one sad conclusion”.

“I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that each of them would have died whatever time the emergency services reached and rescued them.”streaming Tracers 2015 film

The verdict totally ignores the myriad inconsistencies in the official narrative, the police lies, and the multiple eyewitness testimonies that all point to the bombings having been carried out by agencies (and I use the term deliberately) other than the accused five.

To date, and despite the release of some CCTV footage purporting to be from the day of 7 July 2005, not one piece of evidence has been released to the public that could be legitimately used to convict someone in a court of law for what happened, yet the government still has no plans to organise an Independent Public Inquiry

The July Seventh Truth Campaign 7/7 Inquest Blog platforms a range of data related to the case. Essential reading for everyone who wants to get closer to the truth about what actually happened.

Reviewing the information at the links throughout this post will not only enable you to form your own conclusions, but will also prove to you (in case that’s still necessary) that we can’t trust the state to determine the facts or facilitate justice.

 




Force of Love is the Force of Total Revolution

by Vimala Thakar

A tender, loving concern for all living creatures will need to arise and reign in our hearts if any of us is to survive. And our lives will be truly blessed only when the misery of one is genuinely felt to be the misery of all. The force of love is the force of total revolution. It is the unreleased force, unknown and unexplored as a dynamic for change.

We have moved very far away from love in our collective lives, dangerously near destruction, close to starvation. Perhaps we have the wisdom now, the awareness that love is as essential to human beings as the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Love is the beauty, the delicate mystery, the soul of life, the radiant unspoiled purity that brings spontaneous joy, songs of ecstasy, poems, paintings, dances, dramas to celebrate its indescribable, never-to-be-fully-captured bliss of being. Can we bring love into the marketplaces, into the homes, the schools, the places of business, and transform them completely? You may call it a utopian challenge, but it is the only one that will make a significant difference or that is fully worthy of the potential of whole human beings.

Compassion is a spontaneous movement of wholeness. It is not a studied decision to help the poor, to be kind to the unfortunate. Compassion has a tremendous momentum that naturally, choicelessly moves us to worthy action. It has the force of intelligence, creativity, and the strength of love.

The vast intelligence that orders the cosmos is available to all. The beauty of life, the wonder of living, is that we share creativity, intelligence, and unlimited potential with the rest of the cosmos. If the universe is vast and mysterious, we are vast and mysterious. If it contains innumerable creative energies, we contain innumerable creative energies. If it has healing energies, we also have healing energies. To realize that we are not simply physical beings on a material planet, but that we are whole beings, each a miniature cosmos, each related to all of life in intimate, profound ways, should radically transform how we perceive ourselves, our environments, our social problems. Nothing can ever be isolated from wholeness.

There is much unexplored potential in each human being. We are not just flesh and bone or an amalgamation of conditionings. If this were so, our future on this planet would not be very bright. But there is infinitely more to life, and each passionate being who dares to explore beyond the fragmentary and superficial into the mystery of totality helps all humanity perceive what it is to be fully human. Revolution, total revolution, implies experimenting with the impossible. And when an individual takes a step in the direction of the new, the impossible, the whole human race travels through that individual.




In Defense of Coconut Oil: Rebuttal to USA Today

Ali Le Vere, B.S., B.S.

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the USA Today article entitled, “Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy“. Fear-mongering, attention-grabbing headlines certainly sell copy, but do not make for evidence-informed, high quality science reporting.

As I expressed in my recent post on social media,

“The internet is full of erroneous claims. Science writers who forgo the nuances of empirical findings in the interest of sensational headlines.

False extrapolations made by people unequipped to interpret the research. Speculations by bloggers who missed the correlation-does-not-equal-causation lesson in epidemiology.

Over-generalizations from poorly designed, low quality in vitro and animal studies and studies that failed the test of statistical significance. Industry-funded, conflict-of-interest ridden rhetoric.

From eating for your blood type, to saturated fat causing heart disease, to heart-healthy whole wheat, to coffee causing gluten cross reactivity—in the natural and mainstream health communities alike, people take an idea and run with it without once going back to the primary and secondary literature to verify its scientific veracity.

The lack of scientific rigor that abounds in many corners of natural medicine is part of the reason that alternative medicine is marginalized by mainstream medicine. However, conventional medicine is equally culpable when it comes to its standards of care lacking a firm evidence-base.

I hope to fill this void, apply a scientific eye, and impart credence to therapeutic nutrition and holistic medicine by substantiating all my claims with high quality scientific data—instead of pulling statements out of thin air, which sadly is commonplace with headline-grabbing, yet substantive discussion-lacking online articles.”

The USA Today article, written in response to an American Heart Association (AHA) statement advising Americans to replace saturated fat with omega-6 rich polyunsaturated fatty acids from vegetable oils, exemplifies the lack of journalistic integrity, rushing to conclusions, and flagrant misrepresentation of the data to which I was referring.

The Omega-3 to Omega-6 Ratio Determines Inflammatory Potential

Contrary to the implications of this USA Today piece, the evidence has elucidated that omega-6 fatty acids, which occur in the corn, cottonseed, canola, safflower, sunflower, and soybean oil that the AHA was recommending, promote carcinogenesis, whereas omega-3 fatty acids inhibit cancer development (Seaman, 2002). Hence, the Standard American Diet, rich in omega-6 fatty acid consumption, generates the pro-inflammatory state that facilitates tumorigenesis (Rose, 1997).

The detrimental effects of omega-6s are articulated by Fernandes and Venkatraman (1993), with,

“The increased consumption of many vegetable oils particularly of the n-6 series is…viewed as pro-inflammatory and is suspected as one of the possible causes for the rise in certain malignant tumors, rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases primarily due to the increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines” (p. S19).

In contrast, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from wild-caught fatty seafood, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can modify dynamics of the lipid bilayer, including elastic compressability and membrane permeability, promote membrane fluidity, and favorably modify membrane-bound protein activity (Stillwell & Wassall, 2003).

Thus, DHA is preventive in many inflammatory disorders, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disease (Stillwell & Wassal, 2003). Specifically, DHA mitigates neuro-inflammation as it facilitates more efficient nerve cell communication (Crawford et al., 2013). The brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are deficient in DHA, and loss of structural and functional integrity of the brain correlates with loss of DHA concentrations in cell membranes in these patients (Seaman, 2002).

DHA and its long chain omega-3 precursor, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are likewise involved in modulation of immune responses. In one study, supplementation of these fatty acids prolonged remission of systemic lupus erythematous (SLE) (Das, 1994). In another autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis, omega-3 supplementation was found to suppress the production of inflammatory cytokines and eicosanoids involved in the pathogenesis of the disease (Morin, Blier, & Fortin, 2015). Mechanistically, long chain omega-3 fatty acids suppress proliferation of pathogenic T cells and inhibit synthesis of inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin-1 (IL-1), and interleukin-2 (IL-2) (Das, 1994).

The dietary balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which compete for incorporation into the phospholipid bilayer of cellular membranes, is integral for restoration of immune health and for prevention of long-latency, chronic, and degenerative diseases.

In order to generate optimal ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, ditch the toxic industrialized vegetable oils, and moderate consumption of grains and seeds as well, since they contain linoleic acid, the precursor to the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid.

As I illustrated above, arachidonic acid is processed by the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX) to produce pro-inflammatory signaling molecules called eicosanoids, including leukotrienes, prostaglandins, and thromboxanes. Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, promote the production of less inflammatory mediators. Therefore, USA Today’s recommendation to increase consumption of pro-inflammatory vegetable oils, amidst an epidemic of inflammatory chronic diseases, is negligent and irresponsible.

Applying an Ethnographic and Evolutionary Biology Lens

Of all the diets, an ancestral paleolithic diet reminiscent of ancient foragers has the most optimal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, of 1:1 (Simopoulos, 1991). Traditional hunter-gatherer cultures whose diets are composed of grass-fed game, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, wild-caught seafood, organic, local fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers, nuts and seeds are virtually free of the long-latency, degenerative diseases that plague Westerners.

Eskimos, for instance, who eat a high fish-based diet replete in omega-3s and very low in omega-6s, do not suffer from any of the diseases of modernity, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, diverticulitis, appendicitis, gallstones, or autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, or ulcerative colitis (Sinclair, 1981; Nettleton, 1995; Calder, 1998).

In contrast, the Standard American Diet, customary in Western cultures where non-communicable chronic diseases reach epidemic levels, has an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio ranging from 10:1 to 25:1 (Simopoulos, 1991). This is largely due to the inclusion of pro-inflammatory, high-heat processed vegetable oils, which are subject to chemically-laden processes such as caustic refining, bleaching, and degumming, and then have to be chemically deodorized to negate rancidity.

In addition to minimizing vegetable oil intake, incorporating plenty of wild-caught, cold-water fatty fish, including mackerel, salmon, herring, caviar, and sardines, can enhance omega-3 levels. Crawford (1968) also demonstrated that wild animals eating their native diets have significantly more omega-3s compared to domesticated livestock. Grass-fed meat, for example, is replete in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants such as beta carotene and vitamin E compared to its conventional corn-fed counterparts, so incorporating grass-fed meat into your diet can restore balance in your fatty acid ratio (Daley et al., 2010).

Busting the Cholesterol Myth

Of note, is that the USA Today article vilified coconut oil on the basis that it raises LDL cholesterol. However, the most recent Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) removed dietary cholesterol as a nutrient of concern, given that there is “no appreciable relationship between dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol or clinical cardiovascular events in general populations,” so cholesterol content should not deter you from consumption of saturated fat (Mozaffarian & Ludwig, 2015, p. 2421).

Low total cholesterol, formerly believed to be protective against cardiovascular disease, has been demonstrated to have a litany of ill effects. In particular, women with a total cholesterol below 195 mg/dL have a higher risk of mortality compared to women with cholesterol above this cut-off (Petrusson, Sigurdsson, Bengtsson, Nilsen, & Getz, 2012).

Low cholesterol has been correlated with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, suicide, homicide, accidental deaths, and morbid depression (Boscarino, Erlich, & Hoffman, 2009; Morgan, Palinkas, Barrett-Connor, & Wingard, 1993, Mielke et al., 2005; Seneff, Wainwright, & Mascitelli, 2011).

In a group of men 50 years and older, researchers found depression to be three times more common in the group with low plasma cholesterol (Morgan, Palinkas, Barrett-Connor, & Wingard, 1993). Shockingly, men with total cholesterol below 165 m/dL were also found to be seven times more likely to die prematurely from unnatural causes, including suicide and accidents (Boscarino, Erlich, & Hoffman, 2009).

In fact, Morgan, Palinkas, Barrett-Connor, and Winged (1993) articulate this with, “In several clinical trials of interventions designed to lower plasma cholesterol, reductions in coronary heart disease mortality have been offset by an unexplained rise in suicides and other violent deaths” (p. 75).

In essence, in progressive circles, the cholesterol-demonizing, artery-clogging model of heart disease has been redacted in favor of one where inflammation leads to endothelial and vascular smooth muscle dysfunction as well as oxidative stress. Like firefighters at a fire, cholesterol is present at the scene of the crime, but it is not the perpetrator—rather, it is a protective antioxidant element that repairs damage to arteries.

Moreover, cholesterol is an important precursor to our steroid hormones and bile acids, a membrane constituent that helps maintain structural integrity and fluidity, and an essential component for transmembrane transport, cell signaling, and nerve conduction.

Saturated Fat is Not Bad For You

Further, the recommendations of the AHA are especially surprising in light of the results of the Minnesota Coronary Experiment performed forty years ago, where the saturated fat in the diets of 9000 institutionalized mental patients was replaced with polyunsaturated fats in the form of corn oil. A 2010 re-evaluation of the data from this experiment was published in the British Medical Journal (Ramsden et al., 2016).

According to this re-analysis, these patients experienced a 22% higher risk of death for each 30 mg/dL reduction in serum cholesterol (Ramsden et al., 2016). Thus, although substituting omega-6 fats in place of saturated fat led to reductions in cholesterol, these patients suffered worse health outcomes, highlighting that cholesterol is not the villain it was formerly construed to be.

What’s more, although the USA Today article declares the dangers of saturated fat, a recent meta-analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which compiled data from 21 studies including 347,747 people that were followed for an average of 14 years, concluded that there is no appreciable relationship between saturated fat consumption and incidence of cardiovascular disease or stroke (Siri-Tarino, Sun, Hu, & Krauss, 2010).

Another meta-analysis published in 2015 in the British Journal of Medicine concluded that there is no association between saturated fat and risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, type 2 diabetes, or all-cause mortality (the risk of death from any cause) (de Souza et al., 2015).

Along similar lines, a trial published in the American Journal of Nutrition in 2016 showed that eating a high fat diet, and deriving a large proportion of calories from saturated fat, improved biomarkers of cardiometabolic risk and insulin resistance, such as insulin, HDL, triglycerides, C-peptide, and glycated hemoglobin (Veum et al., 2016). The researchers conclude, “Our data do not support the idea that dietary fat per se promotes ectopic adiposity and cardiometabolic syndrome in humans” (Veum et al., 2016).

In actuality, saturated fat has been demonstrated to exert beneficial effects on levels of triglycerides and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), the latter of which has been characterized as the “good cholesterol” that scavenges or transports cholesterol deposited in the bloodstream back to the liver (Mensink, Zock, Kester, & Katan, 2003). Saturated fat has also been shown to elicit minimal effects on apolipoprotein B, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, relative to carbohydrates (Mensink, Zock, Kester, & Katan, 2003).

In addition, in a recent article in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, an expert panel held jointly between the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) reviewed the relationship between saturated fat and coronary heart disease (CHD) (FAO/WHO, 2009).

From their examination of epidemiological studies, they found that saturated fatty acid intake was not significantly correlated with coronary heart disease events or mortality (FAO/WHO, 2009). Similarly, from their investigation of intervention studies, which are more powerful in that they can prove causality, they found that incidence of fatal coronary heart disease was not reduced by low-fat diets (FAO/WHO, 2009).

According to Mozaffarian and Ludwig (2015), “The 2015 DGAC report tacitly acknowledges the lack of convincing evidence to recommend low-fat–high-carbohydrate diets for the general public in the prevention or treatment of any major health outcome, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, or obesity” (p. 2422).

Part of this reversal in guidelines is based on the fact that replacing protein or carbohydrates with healthy fats in excess of the current 35% of the daily caloric fat limit reduces risk of cardiovascular disease (Appel et al., 2005; Estruch et al., 2013).

In a similar vein, “The 2015 DGAC report specifies that, ‘Consumption of ‘low-fat’ or ‘nonfat’ products with high amounts of refined grains and added sugars should be discouraged’” (Mozaffarian & Ludwig, 2015, p.2422). Despite new guidelines, the Nutrition Facts Panel still employs the outdated 30% limit on dietary fat, which Mozaffarian and Ludwig (2015) remark has been “obsolete for more than a decade” (p.2422).

Coconut Oil Doesn’t Negate Health—It Engenders It

Not only do these meta-analyses put the nail in the coffin as far as saturated fat causing heart disease, but a plethora of health benefits have been elucidated in the scientific literature regarding coconut oil consumption. For instance, the following studies, as catalogued in the GreenMedInfo database, have revealed metabolic, immunomodulatory, and cognitive benefits of the dietary inclusion of coconut oil.

For instance, extra virgin coconut oil consumption has been demonstrated to significantly reduce body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC) and produce significant increases in concentrations of HDL cholesterol in patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) (Cardoso et al., 2015). Another study by Liau in colleagues (2011) concluded that virgin coconut oil is efficacious for the reduction of waist circumference, especially in a male cohort. Likewise, a study by Assunção and colleagues (2009) demonstrated that dietary coconut oil reduces visceral adiposity and elevates HDL cholesterol in women, thus improving both anthropometric and biochemical risk factors for metabolic syndrome.

In rodent models, dietary virgin coconut oil improves glycemic control in high fructose fed rats, and is postulated to be “an efficient nutraceutical in preventing the development of diet induced insulin resistance and associated complications possibly through its antioxidant efficacy” (Narayanankutty et al., 2016). Research supports the use of coconut oil for obesity, dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, hypertension, and pathologically elevated LDL, all of which constitute risk factors for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s, the last of which is being re-conceptualized as type 3 diabetes (Fernando et al., 2015).

In addition, in a prospective study of patients with Alzheimer’s, improvements in cognitive function were observed for patients administered extra virgin coconut oil, since “medium chain triglycerides are a direct source of cellular energy and can be a nonpharmacological alternative to the neuronal death for lack of it, that occurs in Alzheimer patients” (Yang et al., 2015). Notably, the hormones, or cytokinins, and phenolic compounds found in coconut may prevent aggregation of amyloid-β peptide into plaques, thus arresting a critical step in pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s (Fernando et al., 2015). Research also suggests that coconut oil may directly stimulate ketogenesis in astrocytes and provide fuel to neighboring neurons as a consequence, thus improving brain health (Nonaka et al., 2016). On a different note, coconut oil mitigates amyloid beta toxicity in cortical neurons by up-regulating signaling of cell survival pathways (Nafar, Clarke, & Mearow, 2017).

Lastly, studies have illuminated anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibacterial, and anti-pyretic properties of virgin coconut oil (Intahphuak, Khonsung, & Panthong, 2010; Ogbolu et al., 2007). Thus, unless you are part of the minority of the population that carries the APOE4 allele, a polymorphism that confers increased risk with saturated fat consumption, there is no reason to avoid coconut oil or saturated fat (Barberger-Gateau et al., 2011). Thus, instead of trashing your coconut oil, do yourself a favor and eat an extra helping—your body will thank you.

For evidence-based reseach on coconut oil, visit the GreenMedInfo.com Research Dashboard.

References

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Ali Le Vere holds dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Human Biology and Psychology, minors in Health Promotion and in Bioethics, Humanities, and Society, and is a Master of Science in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine candidate. Having contended with chronic illness, her mission is to educate the public about the transformative potential of therapeutic nutrition and to disseminate information on evidence-based, empirically rooted holistic healing modalities. Read more at @empoweredautoimmune on Instagram and at www.EmpoweredAutoimmune.com: Science-based natural remedies for autoimmune disease, dysautonomia, Lyme disease, and other chronic, inflammatory illnesses.