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Are polyunsaturated fatty acids associated with death due to heart disease?

There has been recent debate over whether polyunsaturated fatty acids have any influence on the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. A new study from Finland assessed the association of polyunsaturated fatty acids with the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

The human body needs to consume fats in order to stay healthy as fats provide structural and metabolic functions within the body. However, most dietary recommendations suggest that we should prioritize consuming unsaturated fats over saturated fats. The differences between these types of dietary fats lie in their biochemical structures.

Saturated fats are composed of a backbone with single bonds only, while the backbone of unsaturated fats contains one or more double bonds. These structural differences cause them to behave differently. Unsaturated fats increase high-density lipoprotein, also known as HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol, while saturated fats increase low-density lipoproteins, also known as LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are unsaturated fats with multiple double bonds.

Recent studies have caused debates on the effects of polyunsaturated fatty acids on cardiovascular disease

Polyunsaturated fatty acids have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). As such, many dietary guidelines encourage their consumption. However, recent studies have led to scientific debate over the effects of polyunsaturated fatty acids on cardiovascular disease as well as other diseases. It has been hypothesized that polyunsaturated fatty acids may actually promote chronic inflammation associated with diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and neurodegeneration. There is, however, a lack of studies assessing these health outcomes.

A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition assessed the association of blood serum polyunsaturated fatty acids with the risk of death from any disease. This study was conducted using information from 2,400 middle-aged and older men from Finland over a period of 23 years.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids lowered the risk of death from cardiovascular disease

During the follow-up period, 1,143 deaths occurred; 575 were cardiovascular disease-related, 317 were cancer-related and 251 were due to other causes. The researchers found that a higher serum polyunsaturated fatty acids concentration was associated with a lower risk of death from any cause. Additionally, polyunsaturated fatty acids were not associated with cancer mortality.

In conclusion, the researchers showed that there is an inverse association between polyunsaturated fatty acids and mortality such that a higher polyunsaturated fatty acids intake results in lower risk of cardiovascular disease or unrelated death. These findings confirm results from various other studies and suggest overall health benefits with a higher polyunsaturated fatty acids intake. Therefore, individuals should continue to replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fatty acids for a healthy heart.

Written by Neeti Vashi, BSc

Reference: Virtanen, J. K., Wu, J. H., Voutilainen, S., Mursu, J., & Tuomainen, T. P. (2018). Serum n–6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of death: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition107(3), 427-435.



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