Just One Meal High in Saturated Fats Clogs Arteries – Polyunsaturated Fats Help

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Researchers in Australia say that just one meal high in saturated fat may affect the body’s ability to protect itself against artery-clogging plaques. On the other hand, by eating a meal high in polyunsaturated fats can increase the anti-inflammatory properties of HDL, helping to protect the inner lining of the arteries (endothelium).

Dr. Stephen J. Nicholls says “The take-home, public-health message is this: It's further evidence to support the need to aggressively reduce the amount of saturated fat consumed in the diet. This study helps to explain the mechanisms by which saturated fat supports the formation of plaques in the arterial wall, and we know these plaques are the major cause of heart attack and stroke." Nicholls is one of the researchers and now a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Examples of saturated fats include butter, lard and palm oil. They are usually solid at room temperature an should be avoided. Saturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and include sunflower and corn oil.

The study included 14 healthy volunteers and supplied them with two meals, eaten one month apart. The only difference in meals was one included high in saturated fat (coconut oil), while the other was high in polyunsaturated fat (safflower oil).

The researchers drew blood before the meal and three and six hours after eating. They found that after three hours the volunteers that saturated fats reduced the ability of the endothelium to expand the arteries in order to increase blood flow. At three hours there was a statistically insignificant reduction in the ability of the endothelium to expand for the polyunsaturated group.

After six hours, the volunteers that ate food high in saturated fat still had a negative effect. This allowed more inflammatory agents to accumulate in the arteries than had been present before the volunteers ate. But after 6 hours the volunteers who ate meals with polyunsaturated fats had a better response. In fact, the polyunsaturated meals seemed to boost the anti-inflammatory abilities of the body's good cholesterol, with the researchers finding fewer inflammatory agents in the arteries than before the volunteers ate.

"In putting this all together," Dr. Nicholls said, "we have a difference between the two meals regarding a number of factors that influence the early stages of plaque formation. We have a situation where consumption of a single meal containing a high level of saturated fat is associated with impairment of vascular reactivity and impairment of a normal protective property of HDL. In contrast, consumption of a meal high in polyunsaturated fat results in HDL that is more protective.

"It is a small study," Nicholls concluded, "but I think the findings have broad implication because diet and exercise are the cornerstones of all strategies for preventing heart disease."

The study was conducted at The Heart Research Institute in Sydney, Australia. Their research appears in the Aug. 15, 2006, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

By Dan Wilson

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