Background: The high amount of saturated fatty acids (SFA) coupled with the rising availability and consumption of palm oil have lead to the assumption that palm oil contributes to the increased prevalence of cardiovascular diseases worldwide. We aimed at systematically synthesising the association of palm oil consumption with cardiovascular disease risk and cardiovascular disease-specific mortality.
Methods: We systematically searched Central, Medline and Embase databases up to June 2017 without restriction on setting or language. We performed separate searches based on the outcomes: coronary heart disease and stroke, using keywords related to these outcomes and palm oil. We searched for published interventional and observational studies in adults (Age: >18 years old). Two investigators extracted data and a consensus was reached with involvement of a third. Only narrative synthesis was performed for all of the studies, as the data could not be pooled.
Results: Our search retrieved 2,738 citations for stroke with one included study and 1,777 citations for coronary heart disease (CHD) with four included studies. Palmitic acid was reported to be associated with risk of myocardial infarction (MI) (OR 2.76; 95%CI = 1.39-5.47). Total SFA intake was reported to be not significant for risk of MI. Varying intake of fried foods, highest contributor to total SFA with 36% of households using palm oil for frying, showed no significant associations to risk of MI. Odds of developing first non-fatal acute MI was higher in palm oil compared to soybean oil with 5% trans-fat (OR = 1.33; 95%CI = 1.09-1.62) than palm oil compared to soybean oil with 22% trans-fat (OR = 1.16; 95%CI = 0.86-1.56). Nevertheless, these risk estimates were non-significant and imprecise. The trend amongst those taking staple pattern diet (characterised by higher palm oil, red meat and added sugar consumption) was inconsistent across the factor score quintiles. During the years of 1980 and 1997, for every additional kilogram of palm oil consumed per-capita annually, CHD mortality risk was 68 deaths per 100,000 (95% CI = 21-115) in developing countries and 17 deaths per 100,000 (95%CI = 5.3-29) in high-income countries, whereas stroke was associated with 19 deaths per 100,000 (95%CI = -12-49) and 5.1 deaths per 100,000 (95% CI: -1.2-11) respectively. The evidence for the outcomes of this review were all graded as very low. The findings of this review should be interpreted with some caution, owing to the lack of a pooled effect estimate of the association, significant bias in selection criteria and confounding factors, inclusion of other food items together with palm oil, and the possible out-dated trend in the ecological study.
Conclusion: In view of the abundance of palm oil in the market, quantifying its true association with CVD outcomes is challenging. The present review could not establish strong evidence for or against palm oil consumption relating to cardiovascular disease risk and cardiovascular disease-specific mortality. Further studies are needed to establish the association of palm oil with CVD. A healthy overall diet should still be prioritised for good cardiometabolic health.