Background and aims: As dietary saturated fatty acids are associated with metabolic and cardiovascular disease, a potentially interesting strategy to reduce disease risk is modification of the quality of fat consumed. Vegetable oils represent an attractive target for intervention, as they largely determine the intake of dietary fats. Furthermore, besides potential health effects conferred by the type of fatty acids in a vegetable oil, other minor components (e.g. phytochemicals) may also have health benefits. Here, we investigated the potential long-term health effects of isocaloric substitution of dietary fat (i.e. partial replacement of saturated by unsaturated fats), as well as putative additional effects of phytochemicals present in unrefined (virgin) oil on development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and associated atherosclerosis. For this, we used pumpkin seed oil, because it is high in unsaturated fatty acids and a rich source of phytochemicals.
Methods: ApoE*3Leiden mice were fed a Western-type diet (CON) containing cocoa butter (15% w/w) and cholesterol (1% w/w) for 20 weeks to induce risk factors and disease endpoints. In separate groups, cocoa butter was replaced by refined (REF) or virgin (VIR) pumpkin seed oil (comparable in fatty acid composition, but different in phytochemical content).
Results: Both oils improved dyslipidaemia, with decreased (V)LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels in comparison with CON, and additional cholesterol-lowering effects of VIR over REF. While REF did not affect plasma inflammatory markers, VIR reduced circulating serum amyloid A and soluble vascular adhesion molecule-1. NAFLD and atherosclerosis development was modestly reduced in REF, and VIR strongly decreased liver steatosis and inflammation as well as atherosclerotic lesion area and severity.
Conclusions: Overall, we show that an isocaloric switch from a diet rich in saturated fat to a diet rich in unsaturated fat can attenuate NAFLD and atherosclerosis development. Phytochemical-rich virgin pumpkin seed oil exerts additional anti-inflammatory effects resulting in more pronounced health effects.