Study Says Cutting Saturated Fat Doesn't Reduce Heart Disease Risk

Researchers found that doctors' admonitions to avoid foods high in saturated fat like butter and cheese were "just plain wrong."

By Mary West
May. 15, 2017 10:55 UTC

A study found that restrict­ing sat­u­rated fat in the diet does­n’t pro­tect against heart dis­ease, reignit­ing the debate among doc­tors over the issue. Instead of con­cen­trat­ing on a sin­gle nutri­ent, the authors rec­om­mended a more holis­tic approach to health, which includes fol­low­ing the Mediterranean diet sup­ple­mented with large quan­ti­ties of olive oil.

People are suf­fer­ing from the mis­im­pres­sion that they have to suf­fer to be healthy. This is sim­ply not so.- Integrative Physician Jacob Teitelbaum

The belief that the sat­u­rated fat in foods like but­ter and cheese clogs the arter­ies is just plain wrong,” accord­ing to car­di­ol­o­gists in the new report. This asser­tion is a direct chal­lenge to the tra­di­tional med­ical thought that for decades has prompted the admo­ni­tion to cut back on these foods.

In the edi­to­r­ial pub­lished in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the authors said a key ear­lier study showed no asso­ci­a­tion between sat­u­rated fat con­sump­tion and all-cause mor­tal­ity, coro­nary heart dis­ease, CHD mor­tal­ity, ischemic stroke or type‑2 dia­betes in healthy adults.”

The car­di­ol­o­gists advised a dra­matic shift in the approach to the pre­ven­tion and treat­ment of heart dis­ease. 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,” they said.

While doc­tors have long empha­sized low­er­ing LDL cho­les­terol, the report con­tended that a high total cho­les­terol to HDL cho­les­terol ratio is a more accu­rate pre­dic­tor of an ele­vated risk for heart attack and stroke. In addi­tion, they pointed out that car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease is caused by inflam­ma­tion.

Therefore, they pro­moted an approach that gets to the root cause of the dis­ease. This involves plac­ing a focus on eat­ing real food,’ tak­ing a brisk daily walk, and min­i­miz­ing stress to stave off heart dis­ease,” they said. Coronary artery heart dis­ease is a chronic inflam­ma­tory con­di­tion which responds to a Mediterranean-style diet rich in the anti-inflam­ma­tory com­pounds found in nuts, extra vir­gin olive oil, veg­eta­bles and oily fish.” They advo­cated the daily con­sump­tion of ample quan­ti­ties of health­ful fat; namely, four table­spoons of extra vir­gin olive oil or a hand­ful of nuts.”

Why haven’t admo­ni­tions to cut sat­u­rated fat in the diet led to a reduc­tion in heart dis­ease? The answer lies in the fact that peo­ple have sub­sti­tuted refined and processed car­bo­hy­drates for sat­u­rated fat. Such foods pro­duce chron­i­cally high insulin lev­els, a prob­lem that trig­gers inflam­ma­tion, which in turn con­tributes to hard­en­ing of the arter­ies. Conversely, the health­ful car­bo­hy­drates that are part of the MedDiet, such as plenty of fibrous fruits and veg­eta­bles, actu­ally fight inflam­ma­tion.

Responses to the edi­to­r­ial exon­er­at­ing sat­u­rated fat con­sisted of sup­port from some quar­ters of the med­ical com­mu­nity, as well as sharp cen­sure from oth­ers. Those who expressed strong dis­agree­ment said the authors failed to take into con­sid­er­a­tion a 2015 Cochrane review that linked a reduc­tion in sat­u­rated fat intake to a 17 per­cent decrease in car­dio­vas­cu­lar events.

How does lead author Aseem Malhotra address this crit­i­cism? We didn’t use the Cochrane review because it is at best, fatally flawed, and at worst, unsci­en­tific non­sense,” he told Olive Oil Times. The sat­u­rated fat ref­er­ences upon which we based our edi­to­r­ial are sys­tem­atic reviews for pri­mary and sec­ondary pre­ven­tion of heart dis­ease.”

So whom should we believe? Are the authors of the new edi­to­r­ial cor­rect, or should we give cre­dence to their crit­ics?

Olive Oil Times asked inte­gra­tive physi­cian Jacob Teitelbaum for his per­spec­tive. It is impor­tant to look at the entire Cochrane review and not just selec­tively pick out a few of its data points. They key con­sid­er­a­tion is that the low sat­u­rated fat diet did not show any sig­nif­i­cant effect on over­all mor­tal­ity,” he said.

As the review authors them­selves noted on dis­cussing even the one data point asso­ci­at­ing sat­u­rated fats with heart dis­ease, this evi­dence was lim­ited and cir­cum­stan­tial.”

People are suf­fer­ing from the mis­im­pres­sion that they have to suf­fer to be healthy. This is sim­ply not so,” added Teitelbaum.

Common sense tells us that us that the best approach for the pre­ven­tion of a med­ical prob­lem is to attack the root cause, which in this case, is inflam­ma­tion. Since the MedDiet is known as the anti-inflam­ma­tory diet, it offers the most effec­tive means of pro­mot­ing bet­ter car­dio­vas­cu­lar health.


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