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Heart Disease Prevention: Can Fatty Acids Help?

A recent study in heart disease prevention examines the relationship between plasma fatty acid levels and inflammatory biomarkers.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), which encompasses heart attacks and strokes, is the leading cause of death around the world. To address this significant health issue and the shortcomings of heart disease prevention, we need to come up with newer strategies to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. One common clinical sign of cardiovascular disease is the presence of inflammatory biomarkers which can be measured in the blood. Interestingly, these inflammatory biomarkers are also a sign of insulin resistance and have an association with the risk of cardiovascular events.

What is the Importance of Fatty Acids?

Fatty acids, in addition to other components of our diet, can alter the expression of inflammatory molecules in the body. High levels of certain fatty acids in the plasma are known to be correlated to various cardiovascular diseases. Other types of fatty acids, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids, exert a cardioprotective effect by reducing the expression of proinflammatory genes. Moreover, these healthy oils can stimulate the production of hormones that protect against vascular dysfunction and insulin resistance.

Although some clinical studies have shown that the diet influences inflammation and insulin sensitivity, research is lacking on secondary prevention patients – those who have cardiovascular disease and are trying to limit the progression of the disease. A group of Brazilian researchers wanted to determine any relationships between inflammatory biomarkers and plasma fatty acid levels in heart disease prevention patients. Since there is an association between inflammation and insulin resistance, this group also specifically took into consideration whether patients were resistant to insulin. They conducted a clinical study involving 359 participants and reported their results in the Nutrition Journal.

In this clinical study, the participants were over the age of 45 years and had experienced at least one indicator of established cardiovascular disease in the past 10 years. Blood samples were taken to be analyzed for clinical characteristics, in addition to questionnaires, which provided general characteristics of the participants. Approximately half of the participants were insulin-resistant and this group had a higher proportion of females and were on average younger than the non-insulin-resistant group.

The Importance of Fatty Acids in Heart Disease Prevention

Inflammatory markers were higher in the insulin-resistant group than the other participants. The authors uncovered a negative correlation between inflammatory biomarkers and alpha-linolenic fatty acid levels (polyunsaturated), alongside a positive correlation between inflammatory biomarkers and levels of stearic fatty acid (saturated). These associations, however, were only seen in the non-insulin-resistant group. Among insulin-resistant participants, there was a negative association between pro-inflammatory biomarkers and unsaturated fatty acid levels (eicosapentaenoic and docosapentaenoic fatty acid). In other words, higher levels of saturated fats in the blood were linked to more inflammation and higher levels of unsaturated fats correlated with less inflammation.

The results from this paper add to the growing amount of literature that link cardiovascular disease risk factors and insulin resistance. The authors observe that insulin-resistant patients had more markers of inflammation in the plasma. Furthermore, they determined in secondary heart disease prevention patients with or without insulin resistance that unsaturated fatty acids correlate with less inflammatory markers. In offering more supporting evidence for the potential beneficial role of unsaturated fatty acids on inflammation, cardiovascular disease prevention strategies can be improved. Studies that stratify patients based on insulin resistance may provide data that more accurately guide future prevention strategies.

Written by Branson Chen, BHSc

Reference: Bersch-Ferreira ÂC, Sampaio GR, Gehringer MO, da Silva Torres EA, Ross-Fernandes MB, da Silva JT, Torreglosa CR, Kovacs C, Alves R, Magnoni CD, Weber B. Association between plasma fatty acids and inflammatory markers in patients with and without insulin resistance and in secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, a cross-sectional study. Nutrition Journal. 2018 Dec 1;17(1):26.



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