Saturated fats clog up arteries theory is “plain wrong”, say doctors

Posted by Andrea Hogan on 26th April 2017

An online editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has called the popular belief that saturated fats clog up arteries “plain wrong”.

Published today, the editorial says to prevent heart disease there needs to be a focus on eating “real food”, taking a brisk daily walk and minimising stress levels, rather than cutting out saturated fats.

The editorial cites evidence from academic reviews showing no association between consuming saturated fat and heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and death.

“Decades of emphasis on the primacy of lowering plasma cholesterol, as if this was an end in itself and driving a market of ‘proven to lower cholesterol’ and ‘low fat’ foods and medications, has been misguided,” the editorial written by a group of doctors and professors says.

The editorial suggests selective reporting of the data may account for these misconceptions.

It is also suggested a high total cholesterol to high density lipoprotein (HDL) ratio is the best predictor of cardiovascular disease risk, rather than low density lipoprotein (LDL). The scientists say this ratio can be rapidly reduced with dietary changes such as replacing refined carbohydrates with healthy high fat foods

“It is time to shift the public health message in the prevention and treatment of coronary artery disease away from measuring serum lipids and reducing dietary saturated fat,” the editorial states.

“Coronary artery disease is a chronic inflammatory disease and it can be reduced effectively by walking 22 minutes a day and eating real food,” they write.

Mixed reactions from Australian medical professionals

There has been a mixed reaction from Australian scientific and medical professionals to the editorial, with some questioning its suggestions.

Nutrition professor, Peter Clifton, from the University of South Australia, said saturated fat elevates LDL cholesterol to a small degree so lowering saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fat lowers LDL cholesterol and has been shown to reduce events, although not in the two trials quoted in the editorial.

“Saturated fat also enhances insulin resistance and inflammation so replacing it with unsaturated fat has other benefits than just lowering LDL cholesterol,” Professor Clifton said.

Avoid deep-fried food

Dr Yutang Wang from the Federation University supports the idea that saturated fats increase cardiovascular disease being a misconception.

He however says it is important to avoid frequent intake of deep-fried food.

“Frequent consumption of deep fried food using fat (both saturated and unsaturated) has been reported to be linked with worse health outcomes, including coronary artery disease, heart failure, diabetes, and hypertension, etc,” he said.

Healthy lifestyle key message

Dr Jacqueline Phillips from Macquarie University said the editorial was controversial, it does highlight the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.

“This article does highlight the data showing the powerful effects of a healthy diet and exercise, and that this can be readily achieved by each of us through simple lifestyle interventions,” she said.


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