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The Israeli Paradox: What really causes heart disease

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Perhaps you have heard of the French Paradox. Or, better put, why don’t the French get heart disease like the rest of us?But did you know that there is an equally interesting “Israeli Paradox” related to heart disease? And why do so many Israeli’s get heart disease anyhow? For the details, read on…

As it goes, the French, despite their wild ways of smoking and drinking, don’t  succumb to heart disease like the rest of us . There are many possible explanations for this of course. Up until a few years ago it was believed that red wine protected the French from heart disease. That idea has been dismissed at this point. One possible explanation is that health statistics are calculated in a way that reduces mortality from heart disease. Another is that somehow their diet is protective.

In the mean time, did you know that there is also an Israeli paradox ?  Israelis have low serum cholesterol but have high rates of heart disease, which is the opposite of France, and absolutely interesting. Perhaps, by examining both ends of the spectrum, the experts will figure out the true cause of heart disease. In the mean time, we can create our own little  hypothesis right here. And even before the experts, you and I will understand what causes heart disease. So?

One researcher Susan Allport, sums up the Israeli paradox as follows :

Israelis eat less animal fat and cholesterol and fewer calories than Americans, but they have comparable rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and many cancers. They have an ideal diet, as far as the American food pyramid is concerned, but far from ideal health.”[3] 

And the big question: What is different about the Israeli diet that we can point to that would make a difference, or cause an “ideal” diet to be unhealthy?

Guess what- Israelis consume more omega -6 than any population on the planet. In other words vegetable oil. It is now believed that the ratio of omega six(think vegetable oil)  to omega three (think fish, and flaxseed)  is a very important measure of inflammation in the body. Israelis have a very distorted ration of omega 6 /omega 3, and speculation is that causes inflammation, atherosclerosis and other illnesses.  In fact, that is exactly what the following research abstract concludes :

Diet and disease–the Israeli paradox: possible dangers of a high o… – PubMed – NCBI// // //

Israel has one of the highest dietary polyunsaturated/saturated fat ratios in the world; the consumption of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) is about 8% higher than in the USA, and 10-12% higher than in most European countries. In fact, Israeli Jews may be regarded as a population-based dietary experiment of the effect of a high omega-6 PUFA diet, a diet that until recently was widely recommended. Despite such national habits, there is paradoxically a high prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and obesity-all diseases that are associated with hyperinsulinemia (HI) and insulin resistance (IR), and grouped together as the insulin resistance syndrome or syndrome X. There is also an increased cancer incidence and mortality rate, especially in women, compared with western countries. Studies suggest that high omega-6 linoleic acid consumption might aggravate HI and IR, in addition to being a substrate for lipid peroxidation and free radical formation. Thus, rather than being beneficial, high omega-6 PUFA diets may have some long-term side effects, within the cluster of hyperinsulinemia, atherosclerosis and tumorigenesis.


Is vegetable oil a major contributor to heart disease ?

Do the French have a good omega 3/ omega 6 balance? If so, evidence from both societies could be the key to understand what truly causes heart disease. In the mean time,, dump the oil, eat more fish, and enjoy life!




Author: Bill Kushner

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles and I now live in sunny Cleveland Heights Ohio with my family!

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