Published on September 10th, 201434
The Pioneering Spirit of Dr. Mary G. Enig (1931-2014)
My mentor and friend Dr. Mary G. Enig, PhD, died yesterday at the age of 83. I want to honor her life today by talking about her pioneering research, and the profound impact it has had on the fields of nutrition and health.
Early in her career, Mary challenged the widely held assumption that saturated fats and cholesterol cause heart disease and cancer. She established the connection between margarine and other hydrogenated fats and the development of heart disease, cancer and other ills. Furthermore, she found cogent evidence that trans fatty acids contribute to such diseases by foiling the liver’s oxidase enzyme system so that it cannot properly metabolize drugs and pollutants. By researching and publishing data on the trans fatty acid composition of more than 500 commonly eaten foods, Mary gave nutritionists and their clients a useful tool for knowing what foods to eliminate from their diets. This is vital information for anyone who desires optimum health and longevity. All of us who are eating butter today instead of margarine, should be grateful for the research — and bravery — of Dr. Mary G. Enig.
Mary furthermore pioneered research on coconut oil, a much maligned and misunderstood saturated fat that was vilified for years by establishment “health experts.” Thanks to Mary, it’s now widely known that coconut oil promotes optimum health. Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, a health-promoting fatty acid with anti-microbial properties that has been proving its mettle in trials with AIDS patients and others suffering from compromised immune systems. Mary’s theories about “conditionally essential” saturated fats are already proving to be one of the missing links to the development of effective anti-aging therapies.
Mary inspired me every day with her courage and integrity. Over the years, she was consistently ahead of mainstream scientists and nutritionists, pushing their envelopes, thinking outside the box, and threatening the status quo. Not surprisingly, she was subjected to a great deal of criticism, not to mention bullying from powerful food industry interests. Mary not only refused to kowtow to these pressures but boldly moved on to new and equally controversial causes, even as the world of health science caught up with, and belatedly recognized, her earlier findings.
Mary’s commitment to education led her to teach classes and workshops for college students and professionals. Even more importantly, she became active with the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation of San Diego, CA, and then served as a founding board member and Vice President of the Weston A. Price Foundation in Washington, DC. I was deeply honored to succeed Mary as Vice President of WAPF when she retired to emeritus status in 2011. Our 15th annual Wise Traditions Conference (to be held November 7-10, 2014) will be dedicated to her memory.
By teaming up with Sally Fallon Morell, founding president of WAPF, Mary found a highly effective way to fight the diet dictocrats and ensure that her work would reach the public far sooner than the narrow and often entrenched world of academia would ever allow. Their book Nourishing Traditions, first published in 1995, plus dozens of articles and Letters to the Editor written for Wise Traditions, Nexus, the Townsend Letter and other magazines and newspapers had an impact on tens of thousands of men, women and children. The work of the “brazen duo”— as they were often called —invariably incited controversy, but helped people think for themselves regarding such issues as fat in the diet, the deficiencies of vegetarian diets, the dangers of commercial infant formulas and other important diet and health topics.
Finally, Sally and Mary helped blow the whistle on the food-industry sponsored myth of soy being the miracle food for the millennium. Their articles pulled no punches and drove me to begin research on the dangers of soy, a project that led, in turn, to my enrolling in a PhD program in nutritional sciences at the Union Institute and University in Cincinnati. My 2004 Union dissertation became the 2005 book The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Heath Food. Mary graciously served on my doctoral committee at Union, and generously shared her expertise on fats and oils and their myriad roles in health and longevity. She held me to high standards of academic excellence, took genuine pleasure in my successes and encouraged me to thank her by paying it forward. I am deeply blessed to have known this remarkable woman and role model.