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Heart Health

Maybe Saturated Fats Aren’t So Bad After All

A study led University of Cambridge in the UK and published March 18th 2014 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine raises questions about current guidelines that generally restrict the consumption of saturated fats and encourage consumption of polyunsaturated fats to prevent heart disease.

The international team of researchers analyzed existing cohort studies and randomized trials on coronary risk and fatty acid intake. The investigagotrs showed that current evidence does not support guidelines which restrict the consumption of saturated fats in order to prevent heart disease. The researchers also found insufficient support for guidelines that advocate the high consumption of polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3 and omega-6 to reduce the risk of coronary disease.

Not only that, but when specific fatty acid subtypes such as different types of omega 3 were examined, the effects of the fatty acids on cardiovascular risk varied even within the same broad “family”. This result brings into question the existing dietary guidelines that focus principally on the total amount of fat from saturated or unsaturated rather than the food sources of the fatty acid subtypes.

A release from Cambridge quotes lead author Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury as saying, "These are interesting results that potentially stimulate new lines of scientific inquiry and encourage careful reappraisal of our current nutritional guidelines. Cardiovascular disease, in which the principal manifestation is coronary heart disease, remains the single leading cause of death and disability worldwide. In 2008, more than 17 million people died from a cardiovascular cause globally. With so many affected by this illness, it is critical to have appropriate prevention guidelines which are informed by the best available scientific evidence."

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.

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