LMU 30 – Saturated Fat and Inflammation: Unravelling the Connection for Better Health
Source: Journal – Advances in Nutrition (2015)
Lifestyle Medicine Update (November 13, 2016)
Inflammation is a critical process that helps the body fight infections and heal injuries. However, chronic inflammation can lead to various health issues, including arthritis, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. Recent research has shed light on the role of diet, particularly saturated fat consumption, in promoting inflammation. In this article, we will explore the scientific findings on how saturated fat influences inflammation and its potential implications for health.
Saturated Fat and Prostaglandins
For years, we have understood that polyunsaturated fats, like arachidonic acid found in meat products, convert into inflammation-promoting hormones known as prostaglandins, specifically prostaglandin series-2. Medications like aspirin or ibuprofen reduce inflammation by blocking the conversion of arachidonic acid into prostaglandin series-2. However, recent research has revealed that saturated fat, too, contributes to the inflammatory process.
The Science of Fatty Acids and Inflammation
In 2015, a comprehensive review paper titled “The Science of Fatty Acids and Inflammation” was published in the journal Advances in Nutrition by the American Society for Nutrition. This paper supplied valuable insights into the relationship between gut bacteria, saturated fat, and inflammation.
Gut Bacteria and Endotoxins
One of the key findings was the role of gut bacteria, particularly gram-negative gut bacteria, in producing toxins known as endotoxins. These toxins transport into the bloodstream through the fats present in our diet. A high-fat diet carries more bacterial toxins into the bloodstream than a lower-fat diet. Once these endotoxins enter the bloodstream, our immune cells respond by releasing inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which escalate inflammation throughout the body.
Saturated Fat and Toll-like Receptor-4 (TLR4)
Another significant discovery from the review paper is related to saturated fats found primarily in meat and dairy products, including butter. These fats stimulate a receptor on the surface of a critical immune cell called the macrophage. This receptor is known as the Toll-like receptor-4 (TLR4). Once activated by saturated fats, macrophage cells release a plethora of powerful inflammation-promoting chemicals (cytokines), known to contribute to and worsen inflammatory conditions in joints, muscles, and other organs. Moreover, this chronic inflammation has links to diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, other neurological conditions, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.
Monounsaturated Fats and Omega-3 Fats
On the contrary, the review paper highlights that fats like monounsaturated fats found in olive oil and omega-3 fats from fish, fish oil, and flaxseed oil exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. These fats inhibit the release of inflammatory chemicals from macrophages and other immune cells, counteracting the inflammatory response induced by saturated fats.
The Bigger Picture: Health Implications
In earlier discussions, we have addressed how excess saturated fat intake raises LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and triggers pathways associated with cancer development, particularly breast and prostate cancer. Now, with the revelations from the 2015 review article, it becomes clear that excessive consumption of saturated fat from meat and dairy products directly contributes to inflammation within the body. This chronic inflammation is strongly associated with the development and progression of various health conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, neurological disorders, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The connection between saturated fat and inflammation highlights the importance of dietary choices in keeping optimal health and preventing chronic diseases. Being vigilant about reducing saturated fat intake from meat and dairy products can positively affect inflammation levels in the body. In contrast, incorporating monounsaturated fats from olive oil and omega-3 fats from fish and flaxseed oil can help mitigate inflammation and promote better overall health.
As research continues to reveal the intricate relationships between diet, inflammation, and disease, it becomes essential to adopt a balanced diet and lifestyle. Ensuring a well-rounded nutritional intake, rich in anti-inflammatory foods, can go a long way in supporting our body’s natural defence mechanisms and promoting long-term health.
Fritsche KL. The science of fatty acids and inflammation. Advances in Nutrition Journal, 2015, vol 6:2935-3015. http://advances.nutrition.org/content/6/3/293S.full
Dr. James Meschino
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.