We have received numerous inquiries about a recent article published in Nexus Magazine (January-February 2007) entitled “EFAs, Oxygenation and Cancer Prevention” by Brian Peskin. His message is summed up at the beginning of the article as follows: Cancer as well as heart disease can be prevented by taking a ratio of at least 1:1 up to 2.5:1 unadulterated parent omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids plus specific vitamins and minerals.
Who Is Brian Peskin?
We learn from his website, www.brian-peskin.com, that Professor Brian Scott Peskin, BSEE (MIT) is the “World’s Most Trusted Authority on Health and Nutrition” and that “The professor thrives on feedback from his legions of supporters.” Peskin has a degree in Electrical Engineering and he claims an appointment as “adjunct professor at Texas Southern University in the Department of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in 1998-1999.” This professorship apparently qualifies him as the “world’s most trusted authority on health and nutrition.” He has just published a book called The Hidden Story of Cancer, with Amid Habib, MD, FAAP, FACE.
We also learn from the website that Peskin is a consultant to four companies: 2-B Slim Corporation, Glu-Pro Corporation, Healthy for Life Corporation and Your Essential Supplements, Inc. (Y.E.S.). The first three on this list do not come up in a Google search. However, Y.E.S. has a website selling three products: an herbal blend of burdock, sheep sorrel, cat’s claw bark, slippery elm and Chinese rhubarb; a mineral blend of iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, manganese, chromium and boron; and an organic EFA blend of evening primrose oil, high-linoleic safflower oil, flax oil, pumpkin oil and extra virgin coconut oil. The oil blend label does not provide amounts or ratios of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
In April, 2002, the state of Texas charged Peskin with “making a long list of unsubstantiated claims about their Radiant Health Products and Peskin’s credentials.” The products listed in the complaint include an herbal blend containing the same herbs listed in the Y.E.S. product, a mineral blend and an oil blend. Peskin is accused of falsely representing himself as “a doctor, scientist and professor” and failing “to disclose that he has a degree in electrical engineering.”
A move to Iowa, renaming of the supplement company, removal of the three products from the website making claims for them, a more accurate description of his credentials and a new book seems to have allowed Peskin to reinvent himself.
What’s It All About?
Portions of the Nexus article are in line with WAPF principles, indeed seem to be taken from our own website (although WAPF is never mentioned or referenced), but then fluffed up with a high-bravado writing style. The article contains a baffling mixture of strange errors and obvious truths.
Peskin warns about the dangers of soy and trans fats while promoting eggs, meats, nuts including walnuts, seafood and seeds because they are good sources of essential fatty acids. He recommends raw milk cheeses but claims that pasteurized milk is deficient in EFAs. (Pasteurization destroys a lot of good things in milk, and may make the EFAs become rancid, but it doesn’t get rid of them.) He claims, without reference, that humans cannot extract EFAs out of fruits, vegetables, grains and cereals but doesn’t elaborate on whether we should eat these foods for other reasons.
Much of the article Peskin devotes to debunking various popular solutions to cancer—fruits and vegetables, fiber, mammography and fish oils. He then describes the research of Dr. Otto Warburg, who showed that cancer develops when cells are not sufficiently oxygenated. “In the 1920s, Dr. Warburg carried on the research on respiratory enzymes, certain vitamins and minerals that the body requires for the utilization of oxygen in the cells, which eventually earned him the Nobel Price in 1931.”
The key to cell oxygenation, according to Peskin, is what he refers to as “parent” essential fatty acids, the 18-carbon omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which he calls “oxygen magnets,” as they play a role in attracting oxygen from the bloodstream and transferring it into the cell. He is critical of those who claim we are ingesting too much omega-6—”We are told that we are ingesting upwards of 20 times too much omega-6. This is wrong . . .” Yet his solution—one he claims will prevent all cancer—is an oil blend with an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 2.5 to 1, definitely lower than the 20-to-one ratio he seems to think is okay.
While the mixture of fact and fantasy in Peskin’s message results in much confusion on the part of the reader, what emerges is over-simplification in two major areas.
First, our bodies can obviously handle a range of omega-6 to omega-3 ratios—if our body chemistry could only function at a precise ratio, the human race would have died out long ago. What we have learned from research on EFAs is that it is not good to have an extreme imbalance. The modern diet, in which omega-6 fatty acids predominate at a ratio of 20 to 1—with most of these omega-6 fatty acids rendered rancid by processing—creates serious imbalances on the cellular level; likewise, overdosing on flax oil or fish oil creates an imbalance in which omega-3s predominate, leading to lowered immunity—a finding of long standing which Peskin announces as though it were his own discovery.
Modern research has also indicated that it is not healthy to consume too much of either of the EFAs, even though they may be in the “right” balance, and that the body uses EFAs to best advantage when the diet contains adequate saturated fat, an important fact which Peskin does not mention.
Secondly, while the cells indeed need oxygen and EFAs in the cell membrane play a role in transporting oxygen into the cell, this is not a simple process, but one that depends on numerous co-factors, as Warburg rightly observed. These include the myriad components of the cell membrane, such as cholesterol, proteins and a variety of fatty acids, and minerals such as magnesium and manganese.
As far as cancer prevention is concerned, EFAs represent a two-edged sword. Small numbers in the cell membrane do allow oxygen to enter the cell, but if the cell membrane contains too many unsaturated fatty acids, the cell becomes “leaky,” with all sorts of compounds going into and out of the cell when they are not supposed to. EFAs can easily become rancid, meaning that free radicals develop during processing, cooking and exposure to air, causing uncontrolled reactions in the body. And finally, as mentioned earlier, a surfeit of EFAs lowers immunity. For these reasons, EFAs can contribute to cancer, even though they also play a role in preventing cancer.
The upshot is that oil blends with magical EFA ratios are no panacea and claims that these products will definitively prevent cancer represent huckstering, however well disguised. Small amounts of essential fatty acids are available to us in all whole foods; the body uses these best in the context of a nutrient-dense diet containing adequate amounts of saturated fat. Foods rich in certain fatty acids—such as coconut oil, flax oil, evening primrose oil and cod liver oil—can play a role in the treatment and prevention of disease, but only when used with care along with a diet of real food.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2007.