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Studies show only trans fats are an issue for heart health

A report issued on March 17, 2014 by Health Day News documented the release in the Annals of Internal Medicine Daily Fish Oil Supplement May Not Help Your Heart: Studies. The report has concluded that the only fats that have a clearly negative effect on heart health are trans fats. Trans fats have a proven relationship to cardiac disease and heart related deaths.

Eat more clean fish
Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images

Trans fats occur when liquid fats such as soybean, corn or cottonseed oil are hydrogenated to convert them from liquid oils to solid fats. The fats will be listed on processed food labels as being hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.

The lead author of the report was Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge in UK. The other conclusion reached in the report was that taking Omega-3 fish oil supplements had little positive impact on heart health. Chowdhury summarized the findings.

"Saturated fats are not essentially the main problem when it comes to risk of heart disease. Also, omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids have no or little impact on reducing cardiovascular disease outcomes."

This conclusion is being vigorously challenged by The Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association representing the dietary supplement industry. Duffy MacKay, a naturopathic doctor and the council's senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs made this statement in defense of taking supplements.

"There are thousands of studies and decades of recommendations from government, academic, nutritional and medical organizations and experts supporting the important heart health benefits associated with diets high in polyunsaturated fats, low in saturated fats, and avoidance of trans fats.”

Chowdhury led a group research study that looked at the meta-data for 17 heart health studies that was drawn from 18 countries and included over 600,000 participants. Some of the conclusions presented by Chowdhury are a dramatic reversal of information previously published by the NIH and held as common knowledge amount cardiologists and lipidologists (blood fat specialists) in the US regarding the role of fats in heart health. As pointed out in the attached video, meta-data studies lump together a large number of variables that may impact the validity of the conclusions.

“Saturated fats, long considered a dietary no-no, appeared to pose no additional risk for heart disease according to recent research. They carried about the same cardiac risk as unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids."

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Saturated fats are found in butter, lard, cheese and cream, as well as the fatty white areas on cuts of meat. Coconut oil is a plant based saturated fat and has very mixed opinions among alternative medical practitioners and registered dieticians. The new study conclusions support the use of coconut oil in cooking despite it being a saturated fat.

Unsaturated fats that are liquid at room temperatures have been recommended for heart healthy cooking. Olive oil was recommended over corn oil, soybean oil and cottonseed oil. Given that 80 to 90% of the corn, soybean and cottonseed oils come from genetically modified seeds in the US, Olive oil or peanut oil may be the oils of choice for those conscious of the risks involved with pesticide residues and organisms engineered to kill corn borers or cotton boll weevils. So far, peanuts are not approved for GMO sale, but studies are on-going in the US, India and China seeking approval of GMO peanuts.

A second study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine on March 17, 2014 was focused on the use of omega-3 fats on eye health. The researchers also looked at the impact of the omega-3 fats on heart health. They also concluded that taking omega-3 fish oil supplements had little impact on improving heart health or preventing heart disease.

The conclusions reached in Chowdhury’s studies are supported by American researchers. One of the members of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee is Dr. Linda Van Horn from Northwestern University Feinberg School of . Van Horn supports the importance of omega 3 fats as part of a overall healthydiet, and also concludes that omega 3 supplements are not helpful in improving overall heart health. Van Horn recommends that the omega 3 fat source come from regularly eating fish. This is somewhat problematical given the radiation concerns of North Pacific fish and the mercury content for many fishes on a global basis.

Oriental medicine proponents recommend getting the necessary supplements for health from food and herbs. These traditions began 3,000 to 5,000 years ago in India, China, Korea and Japan. There were no genetically modified plants or high levels of mercury, pesticides and insecticides in foods or herbs. Oriental Medicine practitioners recommend fermented skate oil as a source of Omega 3 fats, vitamin A and vitamin D. Good supplements may be better alternatives than bad foods.

As noted by Chowdhury and Van Horn, omega 3 fats are important for cellular health in the brain, and have other health benefits. While the study results suggest that you can eat saturated animal fats without concern for heart health, it may be prudent to wait for the next studies to see if this conclusion holds up over time. Those lusting after a bacon cheeseburger may now feel less guilt.

Duffy McKay contains to support omega 3 supplements. You can make your own choice as to the source of your omega 3 fats or your consumption of saturated fats. The author will continue to follow the advice suggested by McKay.

“If you want to play an active role in staying heart healthy, the best advice remains the same: Eat a healthy diet rich in polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3s, add omega-3 supplements if you're not eating enough fatty fish, and exercise regularly.”

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