Hydrogenated foods

Hydrogenated foods made their debut nearly a century ago but the byproducts of that process have severely undermined human health; in particular the state of blood vessels and the nervous system. This explains the aversion of chiropractors and cardiac surgeons to trans fats. Medicine appears to be divided. 

Here's a bit of chemistry to start with; bear with me because it's not too difficult.

At that time heart disease was almost unknown. Of course a few other things have also changed since then. Vitamin E, an anticoagulant found in whole wheat has been removed from flour to improve its shelf life; and cigarette smoking has become a craze.

Refining wheat by removing the fatty fraction and the bran, vitamins and protein has turned the staple of most people's diets into a high glycemic index food; it releases an insulin surge in the body causing the carbohydrate in flour to be stored as fat.

A sedentary lifestyle and stress too have been stirred into the health goulash; chronic illness has become the norm in western society.

Organic compounds consist in the main of hydrogen and carbon atoms.

Thus we call them hydrocarbons; that's not so difficult, so far.

In its saturated state, each carbon is linked to four other atoms by a single bond.

All the fats we eat are hydrocarbons.

They have, of course, a great many carbon atoms linked to even more hydrogens.

This, for example, is linolenic acid. It's found in many seeds and nuts, and is what we call an essential fatty acid. You must have it in your diet, otherwise your brain and nerves will die; literally.

It consists of a string of carbon atoms which are displayed in black and the hydrogens in white, with a couple of oxygens in red thrown in.

Hydrogenated foods

Hydrogenated foods have toxic byproducts that damage healthy nerves.

If you're interested, linolenic acid comes in two forms, one is the famed Omega-3, the other an Omega-6. You can read more about them at this fish oil page...

Freshly ground flax seeds provide the best vegetable source of omega-3.

"Organic chemistry is the chemistry of carbon compounds. Biochemistry is the study of carbon compounds that crawl."

- Mike Adams


This next molecule is methane. We're not yet at the stage of a hydrogenated food. Methane has one carbon atom. It's linked to FOUR hydrogen atoms - it is fully hydrogenated, and we say it is saturated with hydrogen. FOUR is the magic number with carbon.

It's really a three dimensional structure but most easily drawn like the CH4 on the left.

Hydro-carbons are a great source of energy, whether it's methane gas in an old-fashioned lamp, diesel in your fuel tank, or linolenic acid in your body. In the body they burn to form water (that is passed in the urine) and carbon dioxide that you breathe it out.

Stick with me. This stuff is not so difficult, and if you wan't to know WHY hydrogenated foods in general and margarine in particular are so bad, then you need to grasp it. You can do it, promise! Bob's my uncle.

Now here's big brother Butane. He has four carbon atoms, each linked to FOUR other atoms. One of these links is with another carbon atom. Butane too is fully saturated, hydrogenated.

Like Methane, Butane is fully saturated - each carbon is linked to four other atoms. Count them. Got it? Magic number FOUR.

Jup, he's the guy dumb people use to light cigarettes. Between them butane and tobacco WILL knock ten years off your life. Interestingly research shows if you quit before 40-odd the effect will be minimal. If you can.

Trans fats

Now for Butane's first cousins - there are two of them, one named Peter, one named Paul - joking! Their surnames are Ethene, and their first names are Cis and Trans fats.

Cis butene

Trans butene

If you are observant you will have noticed two things about hydrogenated foods. 

  1. Two of the carbons are linked to only THREE other molecules. Butene is not fully hydrogenated, it has less hydrogen. It is UNsaturated. They have a "double-bond".
  2. Peter and Paul are both C4H8 but they have quite different structures. They are called ISOMERS. Different structures of the same compound.

Most important for us is the fact that cis and trans have different properties, even though they are both the same compound. One may be a solid at room temperature, the other a liquid. More about this later ...

Saturated fats

Saturated fats, like cholesterol, have a high complement of hydrogen, just like methane and butane do. They are the ones that can clog your arteries and cause arteriosclerosis. They come in the main from animal sources. Beef, mutton, pork, eggs, dairy ... Whilst some cholesterol is essential in the body (for neurotransmitters) we really shouldn't eat too much of them.

Exercise and cholesterol

Exercise and cholesterol are closely linked; but hydrogenated foods undermine the whole process.

Not only what you eat, but exercise too has an important effect on your blood cholesterol levels. Read more about

Mutton Stew

Concerned that your Saturated Fat is dangerously low?! (I'm kidding of course!) Try our delic mutton stew. Seriously, it's so full of fibre that it'll probably lower the saturated fat in your blood stream! It has absolutely zero hydrogenated foods or fats. Scrumptious and healthy. Mutton Stew ...  It contains chickpeas, the second most important food in the fight against high cholesterol. Know number one?

Nothing new about all this, it's common knowledge, and I'm sure you know it. Now for the interesting bit ... trans fats stimulate CETP.

Cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP)

Biochemistry is a complex subject, and a controversial one too. CETP is a protein in the body that breaks down the healthy anti-inflammatory HDL in your blood and transports it to the liver for degradation.

But CETP also mops up UNhealthy LDLs and converts them to HLD. Is CETP good or bad? No one seems to be quite sure.

What is known is that trans fats INCREASE the activity of CETP, which is potentially devastating if the breakdown of HDLs by CETP proves the dominant effect.

Increase your HDL healthy cholesterol

Anyway, overwhelming biochemical evidence is that you can increase your HDL by changing to olive oil, eating more avocado (healthy fat), more fatty fish and increasing the fibre in your diet from fruit and salad. Oh, and nuts too, of course. All delic foods, so no problem there, right?

UN-saturated fats.

These are the fats that have double bonds, and less hydrogen. They are UNsaturated.

They come in two forms, both of which are healthy.

  • Poly-unsaturated (mostly in seed oils), and
  • Mono-unsaturated (mostly in fruit oils like the olive and the avocado).

Why is this so important? In nature, we find only the cis-isomer in these double bonded fats. Cousin Healthy Cis. Cousin Trans is the black sheep of the family - he has no place in nature, and neither should we provide him with a place in our bodies. He's a very bad boy!

So why does the food industry take a very healthy oil like Sunflower Oil (which has only cousin Healthy Cis), and make it into a Hydrogenated Food, turning half of it into Bad Boy Trans? Margarine.

Properties of cis and trans isomers

It has all to do with melting points. Saturated fats have a higher melting point than unsaturated fats, so they are solids at room temperature; we prefer spreading solid saturated fat on our bread rather than liquid unsaturated oil.

Bad Boy Trans has a higher melting point than his cousin Healthy Cis. By hydrogenating liquid sunflower oil, the Hydrogenated Foods industry can make it into solid margarine at room temperature. Why? Because the public likes it that way. We want it, so of course they provide it.

However there is more to it than that. It may interest you, perhaps not. "Polarity" is what it makes for these differences. Cousin Healthy Cis is is more polar than Bad Boy Trans. This means the forces between the molecules are stronger, they pack more closely, and so they are more stable.

All good reasons why the Good Lord only provided us with cousin Healthy Cis to construct our nerves. Good stable nerves. Making nerves with a myelin sheath made of a mixture of Stable Cis and Unstable Trans is just asking for trouble.

Have you heard of motor neuron disease? It has to do with hydrogenated foods we think, but also about a low fat coupled with high carboydrate diet. You can read more about it at our tingling in arms and hands link lower down. 

Most trans fats consumed are these days made industrially by the hydrogenation of oils like that from the sunflower., which has only the cis isomer. The goal of hydrogenation is to add hydrogen atoms making them more saturated and thus raising the temperature at which they from a solid to a liquid. However, a side reaction also occurs changing some of the natural cis isomer to the very unhealthy trans form. Hydrogenated foods are very toxic.

Unlike the other fats that we consume, the trans isomers are not essential for humans, neither are they healthy; eating trans fats increases the risk of cardiovascular sickenss by raising levels of the bad LDL cholesterol and lowering the levels of the healthy HDL form.

Nutritional scientists recommend that consumption of trans fat be strictly limited; ideally we should have none at all. Naturally occurring fats contain only the cis isomer. 

Chemically, trans and cis fats consist of the same amounts of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, but they are arranged in a different way. This changes the normally kinked chain of carbons into a straight chain. results in a straight, rather than kinked, shape for the carbon chain. 

This make this more like the straight chained saturated oils.

"Health authorities worldwide recommend that consumption of trans fat be reduced to trace amounts. Trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils are more deleterious than naturally occurring oils."


Tingling in arms and legs

Tingling in arms and legs is a common complaint at the chiropractic coalface, and also in the disturbing letters that I receive from readers on a daily basis.

Sometimes it's a pinched nerve, or too little blood, and diet certainly has a part; are you regularly eating hydrogenated foods?

In conclusion,

  1. Look carefully at food labels and avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated foods.
  2. Avoid margarine*.
  3. On your bread? Here you sit rather between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Margarine or butter? Hydrogenated foods or a cholesterol food? It's strictly my opinion, but I recommend small amounts of butter over margarine, but this is definitely dependent on your overall diet. If you're eating plenty of fruit and salads, vegetables, enjoy ONE glass of red wine in the evening, you exercise and your cholesterol is within acceptable norms, for my money, I would choose butter every time. In moderation. Others have a different opinion. Researchers are divided.

Better still, do what the Greeks and the Italians do. Dip your bread in olive oil, an UNsaturated fat. Less of that bad hydrogen that lifts us off to the place in the sky before our time!


Sandwiches at work, for my money, a small amount of butter. For your cheese and lettuce sandwich at home rather use olive oil than either butter or margarine.

I ALWAYS smother at least one of my sandwiches with Moutabel Baba Ghannouj (an eggplant spread, proved to lower cholesterol), hummus (a Chickpea Garbanzo bean dip) or Smoked Salmon Dip recipe. All can be made in ten minutes, but you do have to soak the chickpeas overnight and boil for an hour.


Okay, let's be honest. When various authorities make directly contradictory recommendations, it means the jury isn't out on the subject. Such is the recommendation to replace butter with margarine.

What are the known facts:

  • Butter is saturated animal fat and high in cholesterol; not good obviously.
  • Butter is better for cooking because saturated and mono fats like olive oil are more stable to high heat than the polyunsaturates like margarine and sunflower oil. Butter is healthier for frying and baking.
  • Margarine is high in trans isomers, known to be bad for human health. 
  • A recent meta analysis of 70 large research studies concludes that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that margarine is more healthy than butter. Butter is back in the jargon.

All of this has been complicated by a resurgence of the Bunting diet by professor Tim Noakes. Like all fads it is an extremism, with weight loss via the use of a high animal fat diet. Yet it has merit, and is effective, being a low carbohydrate diet. More important, by adding fat, it lowers the glycemic index of any carbs in the diet. Tomorrow there will be a new fad; weight loss fashions are just as ugly as those of dress, demanding that they are replaced in the new season.

A plant phytosterol called betasitosterol is known to lower the harmful cholesterol LDL without lowering HDL, the friendly cholesterol. It's also very beneficial for the prostate gland. As a result, certain margarine companies have started adding beta sitosterol to their margarines. Hence the general recommendation of the last thirty years; change from butter which is high in cholesterol to margarine which is low in cholesterol, but ignoring that margarine is 50 percent toxic trans isomer.

Drugs.com makes this statement concerning the use of added beta sitosterol to margarine in the treatment of prostatitis and high cholesterol:

It's important to note that hydrogenation into trans fatty acids occurs with margarine ingestion. Thus, margarine should be used in moderation, and only to lower cholesterol and in the treatment of prostatitis; it should not be considered  the only therapeutic regimen in prostate and cardiovascular diseases.


Tomatoes and avocados, together with pumpkins seeds and pollen in lightly filtered raw honey, make up prostate food, for the prevention of serious disease.

And, yes, butter is back.


Firstly, I'm aghast at the number of my patients that drop dead from a heart attack. One last week, his funeral tomorrow.

But secondly HDL and the omega-3 in fish oil and flaxseed have strongly anti-inflammatory properties, not only good for your arteries, but good for the hyaline cartilage in your joints too. Fundamental in the prevention of inflammation be it in the arteries or arthritis in joints.

Secondly, it has important consequences for back pain sufferers. Research shows that those suffering from clogged arteries to the spine have more back pain.


Did you find this page useful? Then perhaps forward it to a suffering friend. Better still, Tweet or Face Book it.

Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I've left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he's happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He's doing well.

3. Severe lower back pain is scary; just ask Mrs P. Just watching her get out of the car I she was in trouble; she had a slipped disc at L4 making her lean towards the opposite side; luckily she had no pain in the leg. Despite family pressure that this was far too severe for a chiropractor, she persevered. Within five days she was standing upright, and after two weeks almost painfree. 

Despite a hectic job, she wisely took my advice and stayed home for what I call exercising bed rest.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months.

He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the stabs in the groin, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he's well pleased; sixty five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he's taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily walk has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your spine is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her pelvic, knee and ankle issues. Xrays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Increased range of motion is more difficult than too stiff in my opinion. Our care is for kids too.

8. This 65 year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88 year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done.  

10. Mr X is a 71 year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a year ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It's a non complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she's doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38 old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he couldn't sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71 year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors shouldn't be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that's so much bunkum.

Have a problem that's not getting better? Looking for a different slant on your pain? Want to pose a question?

Interesting questions from visitors

CLS writes:

Greetings, Dr B.
You helped me quite some time back with a soothing and professional response which turned out to be exactly correct. I now consult a local chiropractor. You write a superb newsletter, too.

Your own unresolved problem. Pose a question

Knowing that up to 70% of the time the correct diagnosis is made with no examination, no special tests, no xrays, but just from the history, there's a fair chance I can add some insight to your unresolved problem. But at least 30% of the time, I may be quite wrong! Give plenty of detail if you want a sensible reply.

You visited this chiropractic help site no doubt because you have a problem that is not resolving and want to know more about what chiropractors do.

The quickest and most interesting way is to read one of my ebooks of anecdotes. Described by a reader as gems, both funny and healthful, from the life and work of a chiropractor, you'll love them. Priced right at $2.99, though Kindle fiddles the price without telling me.

Sesame and Flax seeds

Sesame butter - tahini

  • Moutabel baba ghannouj