Dietary fatty acids and cardiovascular disease

Animal. 2013 Mar;7 Suppl 1:163-71. doi: 10.1017/S1751731111002023. Epub 2011 Nov 11.


In 1991, the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy produced a report on the dietary reference values for food energy and nutrients for groups of people in the United Kingdom. The resulting recommendations, which included specific limits for intakes of total, saturated, trans- and cis-polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) have remained a cornerstone of public health policy ever since, and similar recommendations have been adopted by the World Health Organization. These recommendations were made largely on the basis of specific effects of these fatty acids on the risk of developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (CVD). The intervening years have seen a plethora of human epidemiological and intervention trials to further elucidate the specific relationship between dietary fatty acid intake, plasma lipids and lipoproteins and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. A number of recent meta-analyses and systematic reviews have revisited the role of specific dietary fatty acid classes and CVD risk. In general, these continue to support a link between saturated fatty acids (SFA) and CVD morbidity/mortality. They also highlight the potent adverse effects of trans fatty acids derived from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. The most recent data suggest that replacing SFA with cis-PUFA (primarily linoleic acid) has the greatest impact on reducing CVD risk. Evidence of specific beneficial effects of n-3 PUFA is generally stronger for secondary, rather than primary, CVD risk, and it is restricted to very long chain fatty acids of marine origin as opposed to alpha-linolenic acid. Taken together, these data suggest that recent focus on dietary n-6-to-n-3 PUFA ratios may have been misguided, and that future strategies should focus on replacing dietary SFA with total PUFA, rather than concentrating on n-6 : n-3 PUFA ratio.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Dietary Fats / adverse effects*
  • Dietary Fats / analysis
  • Fatty Acids / adverse effects*
  • Fatty Acids / chemistry
  • Food Analysis
  • Humans


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids