No link found between saturated fat and heart disease

No link found between saturated fat and heart disease

For the health conscious reader who has been stoically swapping butter for margarine for years the next sentence could leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Scientists have discovered that saturated fat does not cause heart disease while so-called ‘healthy’ polyunsaturated fats do not prevent cardiovascular problems.

In contrast with decades old nutritional advice, researchers at Cambridge University have found that giving up fatty meat, cream or butter is unlikely to improve health.

They are calling for guidelines to be changed to reflect a growing body of evidence suggesting there is no overall association between saturated fat consumption and heart disease.

Lead researcher Dr Rajiv Chowdhury, from Cambridge University, said: "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."

The team, whose results appear in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, conducted a "meta-analysis" of data from 72 studies involving more than 600,000 participants from 18 countries.

A key finding was that total saturated fat, whether measured in the diet or the bloodstream, showed no association with heart disease.

In addition, levels of "healthy" polyunsaturated fats such as omega 3 and omega 6 had no general effect on heart disease risk.

Only omega-3 fatty acid found in oily fish was linked to a lower risk of heart disease.

However, popular omega-3 and omega-6 supplements appeared to have no benefit.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation - which co-funded the study, said: "This analysis of existing data suggests there isn't enough evidence to say that a diet rich in polyunsaturated fats but low in saturated fats reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“But large scale clinical studies are needed, as these researchers recommend, before making a conclusive judgement.

"Alongside taking any necessary medication, the best way to stay heart healthy is to stop smoking, stay active, and ensure our whole diet is healthy - and this means considering not only the fats in our diet but also our intake of salt, sugar and fruit and vegetables."

Saturated fat is traditionally found in butter, cheese, fatty meat, biscuits, cakes and sausages.

NHS guidelines suggest the average man should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat per day and women no more than 20g.

But recent studies have shown that diets which are low in saturated fat do not lower cholesterol or prevent heart disease.

Earlier this month Dr James DiNicolantonio of Ithica College, New York, called for a new public health campaign to admit ‘we got it wrong.’ He claims carbohydrates and sugar are more responsible.

However health experts have expressed caution at the findings.

Prof Tom Sanders of King's College London said: "It really is time that we moved away from focusing on individual components of diet like saturated fat, salt and sugar and moved into better describing diets that we know are associated with a lower risk of heart disease such a Mediterranean dietary pattern or a vegetarian dietary pattern.

"Studies like this just cause a lot of confusion and undermine sensible dietary advice by given in the UK which has had some degree of success in reducing heart disease in the UK.

"Indeed, death rates from cardiovascular disease have fallen by 55 per cent since 1997 despite the increase in obesity so we must be getting something right."

Public Health England said previous studies make it ‘reasonable’ to conclude that saturated fat raises cholesterol and increases the risk of developing heart disease.

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) is currently reviewing the evidence on dietary carbohydrates and a consultation on new guidelines will begin this summer.

Prof Bruce Griffin, Professor of Nutritional Metabolism at the University of Surrey, said: “Nutritional science is complex and imperfect, making it feasible to construct logical and compelling arguments that either one of these dietary components can exert more or less cardiovascular risk.

“To suggest that the theory relating saturated fat to increased total cholesterol is flawed, is nonsense, and contradicts 50 years of evidence-based medicine”

By Sarah Knapton

The Telegraph, 18th March 2014

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