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Molecule length affects health impact of saturated fatty acids

04 Feb 2019

The carbon-chain length of saturated fatty acids (SFA) appears to be an important factor in determining its role in cardiovascular health, a recent study has found.

Researchers obtained data from the European Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Norfolk (n=22,050) and Denmark (Danish Diet, Cancer and Health; n=53,375) cohorts. Country-specific food questionnaires were used to measure SFA intake, the correlation of which to myocardial infarction (MI) risk was evaluated using Cox regression analysis.

The mean total daily SFA intake was 13.5±3.5 percent of the total daily intake (en%) in the EPIC-Norfolk cohort and 12.5±2.6 en% in the EPIC-Denmark cohort. Over a median follow-up of 18.8 and 13.6 years, 1,204 and 2,260 MI events were reported, respectively.

In the EPIC-Denmark cohort, multivariable analysis revealed that intake of lauric acid and mystiric acid (top vs bottom quintile: hazard ratio [HR], 0.80; 95 percent CI, 0.66–0.96, for both SFAs) was significantly and inversely correlated with the risk of MI. The same was true for intake of butyric acid through capric acid.

In substitution analysis, replacing palmitic acid and stearic acid with plant proteins also resulted in a reduced risk of MI in the EPIC-Denmark cohort.

No correlations between any SFA intake and MI risk were observed in the EPIC-Norfolk cohort.

The present findings indicate that short- and medium-chain SFAs affect MI risk and cardiovascular health differently than long-chain SFAs, said researchers. Future studies are needed to determine whether this difference is driven by the actual number of carbons in the fatty acid molecules or by underlying dietary patterns.

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