Udo’s Oil – from pesticide poisoning to a health recovery inspiring a billion dollar organic oil industry
interview by Joseph Roberts
• Joseph Roberts When did you become seriously sick?
Udo Erasmus I was 35 years old and married with three kids when my marriage broke up. I was very upset and basically wanted to kill something so I got a job as a pesticide sprayer. I knew better because I hung around with the Greenpeace guys Robert Hunter, Paul Watson, and other founders. We’d talk about the balance of nature and I’d studied biological sciences so I had a pretty good handle on that subject and I knew that pesticides are poisons. But I was really upset so I went and sprayed them.
I sprayed herbicides walking barefoot through the lawns I sprayed until the skin started peeling off my feet. Then I thought maybe that’s not a good idea so I wore rubber boots. It was a summer job and I was vain because I always liked to have a nice tan so I used to drive my tractor with my big tank on the back wearing a bathing suit and rubber boots. One person said to me, “You’re missing a black tie.” So the wind would drift the spray on my back and I never wore a mask. I did this full-time over the summer for three years.
Q What company did you work for?
A The company was David Hunter’s Landscape Nurseries. I’d taken an exam to become a pesticide sprayer and got 99.5%. I sprayed everything. The Imperial Oil Company had an oil refinery on the north shore of Burrard Inlet, near Port Moody, BC, called Ioco. There were big oil storage tanks, which were surrounded with earth dams because if the tank breaks, the oil comes out, but it’s contained. Weeds start growing in there so I would go around and kill the weeds with soil sterilants. I sprayed fungicides, herbicides and insecticides on the grounds of big companies.
One day, after spraying soil sterilants at Ioco we went into their employees’ lunchroom and they told us we couldn’t clean up in there. I guess they didn’t want pesticides in their lunchroom.
Q They didn’t want you to toxify their eating environment.
A Yeah, they were okay with us spraying it there, but… So, anyway, I ate a sandwich without washing my hands and I know it was on my fingers and that afternoon I got really sick. I was totally laid out. I ended up with no energy, which of course is how pesticides kill; they destroy your energy production system or poison your brain. I ended up with cramps, nausea and dizziness. If I turned my head, it felt like I turned my head but my brain didn’t move. I was 38 and always had lots of energy so the worst symptom was now I was like an old man. If I walked around a city block, I would have to sit down and rest.
That was pretty hard to take. So I called the government agency responsible for poison control or toxicology and said I’d been poisoned by pesticides and asked what I should do. They tried to tell me I just had the flu because some of the symptoms are flu-like. I was shocked. They had nothing for pesticide poisoning.
Q One of the herbicides you sprayed contained glyphosate, which is used extensively on genetically modified food crops.
A Better known as “Round-Up.” I started spraying pesticides in 1976 and Monsanto’s Round-Up’s main active ingredient is glyphosate. I was told – and it said on the labels – that when you spray Round-Up, it’s really safe because the soil inactivates it. And I thought, “How cool is that. You spray pesticide on a weed which absorbs it all the way into the root, killing the root and literally exterminating the plant so there’s not going to be any regrowth.” So it became the weed-killer of choice, especially because it was supposedly inactivated on contact with the soil.
Q The chemical glyphosate was first used as an industrial pipe-cleaner to chelate and extract all the minerals from pipes and boilers. So it does the same to a plant and starves the plant of all the minerals it needs in order to live.
A For more than 20 years, it said on the label that it inactivated when it hit the soil, but it turned out it wasn’t true. Unfortunately, the lie became folk wisdom. There was no court case about it and almost nothing in the newspapers.
Q There may have been a corporate damage control PR campaign to bury the story.
A The FDA did make the producers remove that wording from the label, but there was no court case and they didn’t get dinged for misrepresentation. There was very little news about it. I was shocked, but then smething happened which shocked me even more.
Recently, I saw an article about glyphosate and found out that, not only is it sprayed on the weeds, but they actually spray it on food crops, especially grains and soy beans. They spray it on the grain before they harvest it because it turns out you can spray it on wheat that isn’t ripe yet and it desiccates the grain, which means the water evaporates. It breaks up the water metabolism, making it more porous to dry quicker so it can be harvested earlier.
But you end up with glyphosate on your food. This is the weed killer that messes up mineral metabolism, among other things. Now, they’re beginning to say that when people get celiac disease or irritable bowel or colitis or any one of many digestive disorders, it’s more likely to come from the herbicides on the grains not from the protein. That makes a lot of sense because they’re poisons. And if glyphosate poisons some living things, it is likely not really good for many others.
Reports are now suggesting that glyphosate might also be responsible for some of the brain function problems like dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Q Minerals are necessary for proper brain function and glyphosate robs them.
So to me, greens, good oils and proteins are all good. They all contain essential nutrients. There’s nothing in carbohydrates that’s essential. Everything in carbs is available in other foods. So I take them off the base of the food pyramid and tell people to limit their intake. If you’re physically very active, you can burn quite a bit although if they have glyphosate on them, I wouldn’t recommend them at all.
Q Organic is best.
A Well, my view, more and more is for fresh, whole, raw and organic. Tons of vegetables, a little bit of fruit, seeds and nuts. That way, you also get away from the damage done by processing, the nutrients removed by processing, and you get foods more in line with the way nature made it. Health was invented by life in nature. The entire body is made out of air, or oxygen, water and nutrients. There’s your food and your food is supposed to be your medicine.
Q When you were very sick, what triggered your quest to uncover the underlining cause of your illness and what inspired you on to begin your research into healthy oils?
A At that point I got mad. I got really ticked off. I had asked the government if they could send me information on pesticide poisoning because that wasn’t in my 99.5% exam. Nothing was taught about what to do when you get poisoned, nothing about this stuff is really poisonous so you’ve got to take care. Nothing like that, it wasn’t even in the course. I asked if they could direct me to research because I knew how to look at that and they said they couldn’t let me have any of that.
That did it. I went to Greenpeace and met two people there. One was Thelma McAdams and the other person was someone with a French last name who had black hair and had either been poisoned herself or knew someone close in her family who had been. They had a stack of science research on the effects of pesticide poisoning that was 12-inches thick. When I went through their literature, my palms started to sweat. I found out that half of the pesticides we sprayed could cause cancer and at that time I didn’t know of a cancer cure with a track record. Then I became really focused on nutrition and health. My view is that if the body is made out of oxygen, water and food, when something goes wrong, the first thing you should do is increase the standard you set for what you eat, drink and breathe.
Thelma McAdams told me which supplements to take, in particular antioxidants she thought would be helpful. I ate a lot of raw food and vegetables and not much meat. I knew of other people who had gotten poisoned by pesticides who did a lot worse than I did. And after two years I recovered. Now at 72, I’ve had 32 years with a lot of energy. I did a lot of sweating. Everybody knows you can sweat out water soluble toxins through your skin, but the worst toxins are actually oil soluble and the way you sweat those out is by taking really clean – not damaged – oils to literally drive toxins out of your skin.
The oil molecules actually like to disperse because they have negative charges which repel each other, so they go in the middle of the stomach, they’re absorbed into the body and spread out in all directions. If you take more oil than your body needs, the rest goes out to your skin.
Q The skin needs oil too.
A Yes, and if you get too much, the body actually sweats it out. There’s research saying if you get enough, 20% will end up in your skin. If you take more, then more of it will get to our skin. If you sweat the toxins that are oil-soluble, they will end up in the oil part of your sweat. If you do a lot of sweating, your skin will tend to get dry so you take more oil. Oil sweat detox was shown in some research with Agent Orange in 1983.
So I did a lot of sweating because if you drive toxins through your liver or kidneys, you can damage those organs. The safest way to get rid of these toxins is to sweat them out. The worst thing that will happen is you’ll get a rash on your skin as the poisons leave. That rash goes away within two to six weeks.
Then I really started paying attention to my diet, switched to organic and started taking supplements. After about two years, I got my energy back. A long time. Out of the research I did on nutrition and health and disease, I came across information that was published about edible oils: what happens when they’re made, how they’re made and the damage done to the oil molecules. The colourless, tasteless oils you find everywhere on the shelves of regular stores are treated with sodium hydroxide, which we also know as Drano. Then they’re treated with phosphoric acid, which is used commercially for degreasing windows. It’s a very corrosive acid.
Then they treat it with bleaching clays and the oil goes rancid. Not only does it smell bad, it tastes bad. They heat it to frying temperature, sometimes as high as 245 degrees Celsius, which is the high end of frying – the lowest is 160 – and damage is done to the molecules exponentially with the increase in temperature. By the time all that’s done, you have a colourless, odourless, tasteless oil. You can’t tell what organism it has come from because the taste is gone. It has a long shelf life, but about one percent of the molecules are damaged. They’re changed from something natural that life made a breakdown program for to something that never existed in nature and therefore life very likely did not make a breakdown program for. When you put those oils in your body, after five, 10 or 20 years, you have enough toxic molecules in your body to interfere with health. The immune system doesn’t know how to break them down. Life never made a program for that so they tend to accumulate, which is why we’ve been told industrial and environmental poisons accumulate with age. They just pile up. You’re getting them in faster than your body can get rid of them.
When I realized there’s one percent damage from the manufacturing process, I called the American Oil Chemists Society. I talked to one of their research scientists and asked, “Given this processing you do with oils does damage to the oil, why do you do that?”
He said, “One reason is that when we treat the oil that way, we can get rid of about half of the pesticides in the oil.” I was thinking the other 50% stays in? So the obvious question was “Why don’t you start with organic seeds that have no pesticides on them?” There was a long, really long, silence at the other end of the phone. I just waited. Then he got mad. He said, “I don’t know what your problem is. The oil’s only one percent damaged. It’s still 99% good and if you got 99% on an exam, you’d be damn happy, wouldn’t you?” Of course I got 99.5 so I wasn’t that impressed, but I backed off and thought “Okay, only one percent, maybe I’m over-reacting.”
Then I did the math. The question was how many damaged molecules you will find in a tablespoon of oil if that oil is one percent damaged by the process? The number is 1.5 million damaged molecules for every one of the body’s 60 trillion cells. That’s how many damaged molecules you get into your body with every tablespoon. We use two to four tablespoons or double that each day on average, for many years.
When I realized this, a million and a half damaged molecules for every one of my body’s 60 trillion cells, I said, “I can’t get healthy like this.” And that was correlated with more inflammation and more cancer. Causal, didn’t know that for sure, but correlated, which was a pretty good hint.
Oils are the most sensitive molecules of all of our nutrition molecules so they should be treated with the utmost care, but they’re actually treated with the least.
At that point, I decided we should make them with health in mind, not just for shelf life. I complained about what they weren’t doing until my sister said she agreed but I just made everybody feel bad because I was only complaining and nothing was being done about it.
So I developed a method for making oils with health in mind, which meant protecting them from light, oxygen and heat. Seeds and the extracted oils need to be protected through all the processing we do while pressing, filtering and filling until they’re in a dark bottle with a box around them in the fridge. We designed our own machinery to accomplish this.
The standard edible oil industry makes a mess at the front end and uses a chemical feast to clean it up at the back end. I said, “Let’s not make a mess at the front end so we don’t need the chemicals.”
We started with organically grown seeds, protected them from light, oxygen and heat. I basically was the brains behind the healthy oils industry. “Made with health in mind” was my by-line. Out of that came flax oil because Omega 3’s became well known. There wasn’t a lot of research when we started, but now we know when we increase them in the diet, we can improve virtually any major degenerative condition over time. It doesn’t improve everything because it only improves what the lack of Omega 3’s causes, but research says 99% of the population don’t get enough of them for optimum health. That shows up in every part of the body because every cell needs it.
That’s why we said, “If we could bring Omega 3’s back, we could help so many people.” So flax oil was the choice. Plant oil. I was competing not with fish oils but with cooking oils because these are food oils. You take tablespoons not pills. Out of that came flax. Then I became Omega 6 deficient on flax oil so I said we need to balance the ratio better and out of that came Udo’s Oil. We made so many decisions that had to do with raising the standard in a time and in a trade where everybody was lowering the standards. I was driven by desperation and the need to make something that actually improves health.
I figured if this information could help me, many other people could benefit from what I’d learned so I wrote the book that became Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill. We created our little factory that made oil with health in mind. That became flax oil. I worked with a number of other people and we did a tour in 1988 of 35 states, 17,000 miles by road, 85 cities in 101 days from June to September. We literally drove all night and worked all day.
We did the whole tour on raw vegetables because within the first two weeks we learned if we ate carbs we’d fall asleep and if we ate meat and heavily cooked foods, we wouldn’t have energy. So the whole thing was done on raw vegetables and we had energy to burn. We were on fire. We could help so many people. That’s how it all started.
I don’t have confidence in a lot of areas, but I do have confidence in what I know. I knew the science and the molecules and the needs of the system and the ability to explain it. I had no doubt we’d be successful.
Our small, but dedicated, beginning gave birth to a new industry that is now a billion-dollar industry: flax oil. I didn’t have any business training so I did another project and then a third; fundamentally, I’ve done three successful projects just based on my knowledge and the passion I have for helping people have better health. I’ve been pretty much an educator in 40 countries and I was made for it. I’ve done more than 5,000 talks and more than 3,000 media interviews.
Now I have turned health into a teachable field based on nature and human nature, which is a much bigger project. I’ve got about 7,000 pages of notes, some of them a rewriting of my life and some actually looking at how life created health in nature. We will shift off the disease paradigm when we have a coherent understanding of what health actually is. That is the elephant in the room and that’s what I’m addressing.