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Bill Lands lectures on nutrition and health

By Charlie Ross '17

April 24, 2014

On Wednesday, April 16 Dr. Bill Lands lectured about nutritional imbalances that exist in the typical American diet. Several biology and chemistry professors encouraged their students to attend his lecture, “Put Basic Science into Your Personal Health.”

The first imbalance that Dr. Lands discussed was caloric intake versus expenditure. According to Lands, the average meal served at a restaurant in the US is 1300 calories; however, due to our largely sedentary lifestyle and our general lack of exercise, Americans only burn around 200 calories every three hours.

The second imbalance he described is more inconspicuous. Typical American diets, his research revealed, are marked by low consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and high consumption of omega-6 fatty acids. This imbalance can lead to deleterious health effects such as heart disease.

Lands advised that those wishing to be smart about their health should “nix the six and eat the three.” His dedicated research demonstrates his belief that nutrition is a complex science that relies on a wide variety of factors beyond a simple measure of caloric intake.

One particularly intriguing point in Dr. Lands’ talk was when he explained how research on this omega-3 and omega-6 acid imbalance has been used by the US military to improve the performance of its soldiers in active duty.

He explained that the US military had noticed that more soldiers were dying from suicide than from enemy fire. In response, the Department of Defense analyzed the health of its soldiers across all branches. They found that the soldiers in active duty were consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids in comparison to omega-3 fatty acids.

They found that the blood level ratios of omega-3 fatty acids (desired) to omega-6 fatty acids (undesired) required for “optimal health” is 70/30.

Soldiers on active duty in the military, however, are kept at a blood level ratio of 17/83. This poor ratio was affecting both the soldiers’ physical health, and their mental health.

Lands is one of many Levitt Speakers who visit Hamilton to encourage discussion and provide insight to our campus conversations. Lands was also on campus last spring,when he gave a lecture in the Kennedy Auditorium, did a class visit, met with several professors and had a dinner with some of Professor Myriam Cotten’s students.

No collective action resulted from his first visit to educate the campus community about the importance of considering omega-3 to omega-6 balance for healthy nutrition, which is why his second visit included the Levitt Center and several administrators.

Lands was a professor of biochemistry at the University of Michigan from 1955 to 1980 and at the University of Illinois from 1980 to1991. At both schools, much of his research was dedicated to the study of “metabolism of fat, phospholipids and prostaglandins.”

Throughout his career he has authored over 250 papers and the book, Fish, Omega-3 and Human Health. He has also “helped initiate multiple international conferences and meetings on the health aspects of balancing omega-6 nutrients with omega-3 nutrients and is recognized as a world expert in the field.”

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