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Saturated Fat and Your Heart

In an article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a meta-analysis of data from 72 unique studies with over 600,000 participants from 18 nations found that total saturated fatty acid, whether measured in the diet or in the bloodstream as a biomarker, was not associated with coronary disease risk in the observational studies. So, if you only get your science and health news from mainstream newspapers or television, you may be surprized -  the evidence to support restricting the consumption of saturated fats in order to prevent heart disease isn't there. This, of course, does not give you a green light to have hamburgers for lunch and  steak for dinner every day because saturated fat does contribute to weight gain (see below). However, moderate consumption of natural, not fat reduced milk, butter, cheese and humanely raised animal meat without added hormones and antibiotics is not a threat to your cardiovascular health and may add some pleasure to your lifestyle.

For the meta-analysis, the researchers analyzed data from 72 unique studies with over 600,000 participants from 18 nations. The investigators found that total saturated fatty acid, whether measured in the diet or in the bloodstream as a biomarker, was not associated with coronary disease risk in the observational studies. Similarly, when analyzing the studies that involved assessments of the consumption of total monounsaturated fatty acids, long-chain omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, there were no significant associations between consumption and cardiovascular risk.

Interestingly, the investigators found that different subtypes of circulating long-chain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids had different associations with coronary risk, with some evidence that circulating levels of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids (two main types of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids), and arachidonic acid (an omega-6 fat) are each associated with lower coronary risk.

Similarly, within saturated fatty acid, the researchers found weak positive associations between circulating palmitic and stearic acids (found largely in palm oil and animal fats, respectively) and cardiovascular disease, whereas circulating margaric acid (a dairy fat) significantly reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, when the authors investigated the effects of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid supplementations on reducing coronary disease in the randomised controlled trials, they did not find any significant effects – indicating a lack of benefit from these nutrients.

Rajiv Chowdhury, MD, PhD; Samantha Warnakula, MPhil; Setor Kunutsor, MD, MSt; Francesca Crowe, PhD; Heather A. Ward, PhD; Laura Johnson, PhD; Oscar H. Franco, MD, PhD; Adam S. Butterworth, PhD; Nita G. Forouhi, MRCP, PhD; Simon G. Thompson, FMedSci; Kay-Tee Khaw, FMedSci; Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH; John Danesh, FRCP; Emanuele Di Angelantonio, MD, PhD , 'Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis', Ann Intern Med. 2014; 160(6):398-406-406

In a recent study published in the journal Diabetes, Frederik Rosqvist, from Uppsala University (Sweden), and colleagues enrolled 39 young adult men and women of normal weight, who ate 750 extra calories per day – either of polyunsaturated fat, or saturated fat – for 7 weeks.  Both diets otherwise contained the identical amount of sugar, carbohydrates, and protein. Using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to assess the increase in body fat and  distribution of fat in the body, as well as changes in muscle mass during the study period, the researchers found that the excess consumption of saturated fat resulted in a significantly greater increase in the amount of abdominal fat, as compared to the subjects who consumed the extra unsaturated fat.  The saturated fat group also displayed more total amount of body fat, as well as muscle mass that was three times less, as compared to the unsaturated fat group.  The study authors conclude that: “overeating [saturated fat] promotes hepatic and visceral fat storage whereas excess energy from [polyunsaturated fats] may instead promote lean tissue in healthy humans.”

Rosqvist F, Iggman D, Kullberg J, Jonathan Cedernaes J, Riserus U, et al.  “Overfeeding Polyunsaturated and Saturated Fat Causes Distinct Effects on Liver and Visceral Fat Accumulation in Humans.”  Diabetes. 2014 Feb 18.

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