October 5

Saturated Fats and Heart Disease Not Linked? Think Again

Filed under Blog by Frederic Patenaude

The public view of saturated fats and heart disease is rapidly changing, thanks to paleo bloggers and the media that have been riding the wave of attention of a few new studies on the link between cholesterol, saturated fats and heart disease.

From Chris Kresser's Website

From Chris Kresser’s Website

For example, if I type in “saturated fats and heart disease” in Google, I get a number of provocative titles by various authors, in addition to medical research:

  • New Scientific Analysis Confirms Saturated Fats Have No Link to Heart Disease (Mercola)
  • Confused About Fat and Heart Disease? This Study Explains Why (Time Magazine
  • New study puts final nail in the “saturated fat causes heart disease” coffin (Chris Kresser)

What all of these articles are referring are a few meta-analysis observational studies where no link was found between heart disease and saturated fats, going against the current wisdom.

For example, a 2009 study stated:

A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.1

So what should we think of it?

It seems the public has responded with enthusiasm to this confusion by eating bacon and butter with the same reckless abandon.

The video below by Dr. Michael Greger explains why there is confusion.

The video gets a little complicated but it is 100% worth the watch. In summary:

  • Hundreds of studies have been done to without a doubt prove that saturated fat intake is the leading cause of increase in LDL “bad” cholesterol. These studies were done in a laboratory setting where the scientists had 100% control over the diet prescribed to people. Randomized control trials have also confirmed this.
  • Observational (epidemiological studies) CANT find this link because of highly variable factors in individuals that are difficult to spot in these studies.
  • Control-feeding experiments are different and PROVE that saturated fats raise cholesterol levels.
  • Observational studies don’t have the POWER to prove such a correlation.

The paleo community has embraced these new observational studies (funded by the meat industry) because they prove their point. However, they completely ignore the overwhelming body of evidence that implicates the role of saturated fat in heart disease.

It proves again that “people love to hear good news about their bad habits.”

7 Responses to “Saturated Fats and Heart Disease Not Linked? Think Again”

  1. Zach says:

    A friend of mine’s son eats raw meat, eggs, and milk, and he says that because it is raw, there are no endotoxins and no problem with saturated fat. What do you say to that?

  2. Barb says:

    I would not touch conventional meat or fat as all the toxins accumulate in fat of such animals. I do not think that there is anything wrong with eating some fat from healthy, grassfed animals though. I have been doing that for many years and my LDL is perfect. Additionally my HDL is really good. 80 something

  3. Claudia says:

    Thank you so much for your clarification. Sometimes studies are either too specific to support the general situation and some studies are too small to really say that they are answer to everything. Having worked in the research world for 30 years, I know how studies work. But most people jump to conclusions too early from the new hype about studies. You have clearly stated the situation and I appreciate that.

  4. Steven Krulick says:

    The video seems to presume, absent any proof, that increased cholesterol levels CAUSE increased risk of heart disease, when there have been studies suggesting there is no such link. Indeed, cholesterol levels TOO LOW relate to increased risk of stroke; the body NEEDS cholesterol, particularly the brain. The body manufactures cholesterol, even if one eats none. Unless one’s levels are abnormally high, where is the evidence to suggest that lowering it beyond a certain point, is beneficial?

  5. Frederic Patenaude says:

    This is a good comment. There have been hundreds of studies showing the link between increased LDL cholesterol and heart disease as being the primary driver of heart disease. I have reviewed them in this article: http://renegadehealth.com/blog/2015/01/14/can-your-cholesterol-be-too-low
    However, to summarize this issue, here’s what the editor of the American Journal of Cardiology had to say on the topic:

    “What evidence connects atherosclerosis to cholesterol?

    The connection between cholesterol and atherosclerosis is strong (9, 10):

    a. Atherosclerotic plaques similar to those in humans can be produced in nonhuman herbivores by feeding them large quantities of cholesterol and/or saturated fat. It is not possible to produce atherosclerotic plaques experimentally in carnivores.

    b. Cholesterol is found within atherosclerotic plaques.

    c. In societies where the serum total cholesterol is <150 mg/dL, the frequency of symptomatic and fatal atherosclerosis is exceedingly uncommon; in contrast, in societies where the total cholesterol level is >150 mg/dL, the frequency of symptomatic and fatal atherosclerosis increases as the level above 150 increases.

    d. The higher the serum total cholesterol level, and specifically the higher the serum LDL cholesterol, the greater the frequency of symptomatic atherosclerosis, the greater the frequency of fatal atherosclerosis, and the greater the quantity of plaque at necropsy.

    e. In placebo-controlled, double-blind, lipid-lowering studies of adults without symptomatic atherosclerosis, the group with lowered serum LDL cholesterol developed fewer symptomatic and fatal atherosclerotic events compared with controls.

    f. In placebo-controlled, double-blind, lipid-lowering studies of adults with previous symptomatic atherosclerosis, the group with lowered LDL cholesterol levels after the event had fewer subsequent atherosclerotic events than did the group that did not lower their cholesterol levels (controls).

    g. LDL receptors were discovered in the liver by Brown and Goldstein, and the absence or decreased numbers of LDL receptors in patients with quite elevated serum cholesterol levels indicates a genetic defect in an occasional patient (3–5).”


    That’s a fair number of claims for you to investigate on your own.

  6. sheri says:

    i think balance is great, some raw milk, grass fed meat is a good addition i think to a healthy diet.

  7. elaine says:

    We have two different matters here – saturated fats’ effects on cholesterol levels and cholesterol’s effects on cardiovascular health.

    First of all, what saturated fats are we talking about – all of them?
    There is a big difference between chemically altered foods, for example, and pure, raw oils and fats. I think we are beyond judging them all equally, much less proving anything in studies until we understand the specifics of molecular structure, etc.
    I believe some saturated fats are truly nourishing.

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