Lately, our lives are rife with claims that the news is fake, facts have alternatives and science is irrelevant. In the world of health and wellness, this is neither fake nor is it news. In this post, we examine the details of a particularly bizarre example in which it was reported that eating bacon causes a form of jet lag.
Do you ever go on social media or turn on the news or talk to a friend and hear a news bite about some devasting new health claim based on irrefutable research? It happens all the time. I’m as much a part of the problem as anyone. The whole Karma Sense Media Empire is loaded with new studies and claims that I use to substantiate claims and foster curiosity.
My motivation is pure. I make claims about how to Be Healthy, Be Happy and, oh yeah, Save the World! I want to give you confidence that I’m not just pulling things out of my as-terisk. But this post is a case study of how health headlines go bad. And if I take the headlines I’ve seen associated with this study to their logical conclusion it would mean that bacon, butter, cheese and even the much glorified greek yogurt and coconut oil all give you jet lag.
But is it true?
Jokes or Hoax
It all started with a Texas A&M study (Go Aggies!) with the catchy title of Role of Inflammatory Signaling in the Differential Effects of Saturated and Poly-unsaturated Fatty Acids on Peripheral Circadian Clocks. So already, there are two problems.
- Whether true or false, Aggies have a reputation for not being particularly bright, especially their scientists. In fact, there is an old joke that goes like this.There was a group of Aggie science students that wanted to take a trip to the sun, but some UT students said that was impossible and that they would burn up along the way before they reached the sun. The Aggies replied, “We’re going to travel at night!”I said it was an old joke. I never said it was funny.
- Academics know they must publish or perish. To publish, their research needs a title and sometimes that’s the hardest part of their research. Do they submit a title that’s snappy but misleading? Or do they choose one that’s tedious but accurate? The Texas A&M researchers went for the middle ground. They chose tedious and misleading.
If You Have to Explain a Joke, It’s Not Funny
I suppose I better explain.
Individual cells in the human body have specialized functions. Muscle cells help you move. Brain cells help you think. Skin cells hold you together. And nerve cells help you find loose Lego pieces on the living room floor in the middle of the night. Those functions vary depending on the time of day. They’re linked to your circadian rhythms, the twenty-four-hour cycle of physiology.
The Texas A&M hypothesis focused on how eating certain types of fats and their resulting inflammatory response screws with the timing of individual cells. Those cells, in turn performed their jobs at the wrong time of day taking them out of sync with other cells on which they depend.
This is very much like what happens to your body when you travel to a significantly different time zone. Some cells tell you to sleep when it’s time for lunch. Other cells are saying “Yes! Eating now will only make sleeping harder later, but you really want to devour that cheeseburger in paradise.”
The net effect of this chronic cellular jet-lag is cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
For people like me who have an unnatural, irrational and insatiable curiosity about physical health, mental health and physiology, that’s a very cool theory. But you’re not me so I’ll spare you the gory details. One detail I won’t spare you from is that to test the theory, the authors used a substance called palmitate as the lone fat they would use for evaluating saturated fat. They chose palmitate or palmitic acid because it’s a known inflammatory.
Fast forward to the end, and the study demonstrated that palmitate does indeed cause cellular jet lag. But that’s not what the title says. The title of the study is “Role of Inflammatory Signaling in the Differential Effects of Saturated and Poly-unsaturated Fatty Acids on Peripheral Circadian Clocks.” They’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. And really, this is the 21st century and they’re scientists. What are they doing throwing away bathwater when they can just open the drain?
As I Said, Not Funny
Palmitate is one of several types of saturated fat. In addition to palmitic acid, there’s butyric, lauric, myristic and stearic acid. Unlike palmitic acid, some of those other saturated fats aren’t inflammatory. Some are even known to have positive health benefits. Painting all saturated fatty acids with the palmitic acid brush is like saying all Brady’s have inferiority complexes because Jan Brady does. And clearly, Marcia Brady does not have an inferiority complex.
Karma Sense Advice
The Karma Sense Eating Plan suggests you Eat Good Fats Daily and Balance a Variety of Good Fats. These good fats include polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and, yes, saturated fats.
Most Americans consume too much saturated fat in the form of palmitate in fast and ultra-processed foods. It’s what gives them that pleasurable palmitatiness. Because of this, it’s a good idea to keep your saturated fat intake in check in favor of monounsaturated and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.
Well-adjusted adjusted people who have better things to do wouldn’t read the study I just summarized. Instead, they’d Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive and Dodge news headlines and social media posts that tell them that saturated fat, ALL saturated fat causes jet lag. After this study came out, I encountered multiple articles and posts that did just that.
In the scheme of things, more questions result from the Texas A&M study than answers.
It’s a Mouse study. The scientists researched the effect on the cells of mice and not on actual whole mice. We don’t know what this means for humans. If I were to guess, I think it would probably carry over but we the body is such a complex and malleable thing, the process could just as well have no net effect.
Also, people don’t generally eat palmitate in isolation. We don’t go to the drive through window and order a Filet o’ Palmitate sandwich. At least not yet. The study doesn’t address how proteins, other fats, vitamins, minerals and the additional good stuff in food effect this reaction.
But here’s the big question. If flying across several time zones gives me jet lag and eating saturated fat gives me jet lag. Will the accumulated effect just put me in the same zone I started in? In other words, if I actually eat a cheeseburger in paradise, will that reset my body clock back to its original time zone? That sounds like the experiment for me.