What Do We Really Know About Saturated Fats?

A general argument often endorsed in the media suggests that intake of any saturated fat should be reduced due to potential links to high risks of coronary heart disease (CHD).

In an interview with Global Oils & Fats Business Magazine, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, Global Cardiovascular Health senior research associate Dr Rajiv Chowdhury discusses his latest findings on saturated fats and cardiovascular disease, and the new debate on fats and nutrition.

He explains his views on these broad assumptions that were based on somewhat inconsistent evidence.

He also expresses the need for public health practitioners to better inform consumers about the significant health risks associated with consuming trans fats.

Your study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, generated a lot of interest. Can you explain the findings of the study?

Our meta-analysis, published in March 2014, investigated how fatty acids consumption or circulating composition might be related to future risk of CHD.

According to Dr Rajiv, the meta-analysis found no significant association for total or composite saturated fats in the diet with the risk of heart disease.
According to Dr Rajiv, the meta-analysis found no significant association for total or composite saturated fats in the diet with the risk of heart disease.

In our analyses, we included estimates from observational studies that measured “total” fatty acids from dietary intake; observational biomarkers studies that looked at “individual” fatty acid subtypes; and randomised controlled trials of fatty acid supplementation.

Taken together, this quantitative review combined data from 72 unique studies involving over 600,000 participants from approximately 20 countries.

First, we considered results on dietary total fatty acid intake from 32 prospective studies (with 512,420 participants).

We found essentially nil associations for total saturated, monounsaturated and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids with CHD, whereas intake of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids was associated with lower CHD risk, and intake of trans fatty acids was associated with higher CHD risk.

Second, we considered results on individual circulating fatty acid subtypes from 17 prospective biomarker studies (with 25,721 participants).

We found a significant inverse association between margaric acid and CHD, and non-significant positive associations of palmitic and stearic acids with CHD.

We found some evidence that circulating levels of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid (the two main types of long-chain omega-3), and arachidonic acid, were each associated with lower CHD risk.

Third, we considered 27 randomised controlled trials of fatty acid supplementation or replacement (with 105,085 participants).

In aggregate, these trials have not suggested clear benefits after supplementation with alpha-linolenic acid or with long-chain omega-3 fatty acid, or replacement of saturated fats with omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid.

Real full interview here

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