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Types of Saturated Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease

Synopsis

Recent research suggests that not all saturated fatty acids have the same effect on cardiovascular health. Saturated fatty acids found in dairy fat may even diminish the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Highlights

  • Circulating saturated fatty acids do not appear to be associated with coronary outcomes;
  • Saturated fatty acids that are biomarkers of dairy fat intake may not be associated with an increased cardiovascular disease risk;
  • Limited evidence suggests that there is an inverse association between certain dairy saturated fatty acids and cardiovascular risk.

The Evidence

In a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies, Chowdhury et al. evaluated the association between different types of circulating fatty acids with respect to coronary outcomes. The analysis consisted of 17 studies and 25,721 participants. Follow-ups ranged from 1 to 31 years. The following findings were made regarding circulating saturated fatty acids:1

  • Total saturated fatty acids were not associated with coronary outcomes;
  • Margaric acid (17:0), which is a biomarker of dairy fat consumption, was associated with a 23% reduced risk of coronary outcomes;
  • Other biomarkers of dairy fat consumption, such as myristic (14:0) and pentadecanoic (15:0) acids, were not associated with coronary outcomes;
  • There were no significant associations with circulating palmitic (16:0) and stearic (18:0) acids.

A prospective, nested case-control study investigated the association between circulating biomarkers of dairy fat and stroke. A total of 594 cases and their matched controls were examined from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.2

  • No associations were observed between 14:0, 15:0 or 17:0 and stroke risk in men or women;
  • Trans-palmitoleic acid (trans-16:1n-7), which is a ruminant natural trans fatty acid, was not associated with stroke risk;
  • In sensitivity analyses, similar results were obtained for different stroke subtypes, as well as for plasma vs. red blood cells fatty acids.

In the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, de Oliveira Otto et al. prospectively assessed the association between plasma phospholipid dairy fatty acids and incident cardiovascular and coronary heart diseases. The study included 2,837 participants of equal proportions of black, Chinese, Hispanic and white US adults, aged 45 to 84 years.3

  • Each 0.05% increase in 15:0 was associated with a 19% and 26% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, respectively;
  • 14:0 was not significantly associated with incident cardiovascular disease or coronary heart disease.  

Potential Mechanisms

Some studies have suggested that odd-chain saturated fatty acids may have beneficial cardiovascular effects, whereas even-chain saturated fatty acids may be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.4,5 However, the results are inconsistent and this potential difference between odd-chain and even-chain saturated fatty acids remains to be clarified.  

Moreover, the reasons as to why the effect of odd-chain saturated fatty acids may be different from that of even-chain ones are not clear. Odd- and even-chain saturated fatty acids are metabolized differently. Odd-chain saturated fatty acids, such as 15:0 and 17:0, are biomarkers of exogenous dairy fat intake. Conversely, higher levels of even-chain saturated fatty acids are mainly due to de novo liposynthesis influenced by carbohydrate intake, rather than their direct dietary intake.1

Conclusion

There appears to be either no or an inverse association between certain saturated fatty acids found in dairy fat and cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease and stroke.

More studies on different types of saturated fatty acids, including those found in dairy fat, are needed to provide more conclusive results.

Keywords: cardiovascular disease , coronary heart disease , dietary factors , saturated fat , stroke , trans fat


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