Differential effects of medium- and long-chain saturated fatty acids on blood lipid profile: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Am J Clin Nutr. 2018 Oct 1;108(4):675-687. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqy167.


Background: Medium-chain saturated fatty acids (MCFAs) may affect circulating lipids and lipoproteins differently than long-chain saturated fatty acids (LCSFAs), but the results from human intervention trials have been equivocal.

Objective: The aim of this study was to determine whether MCFAs and LCSFAs have differential impacts on blood lipids and lipoproteins.

Design: Five databases were searched (EMBASE, MEDLINE, CINAHL, Cochrane, and Scopus) until April 2018, and published clinical trials investigating the differential effects of dietary MCFAs and LCSFAs on blood lipids were included. Searches were limited to the English language and to studies with adults aged >18 y. Where possible, studies were pooled for meta-analysis using RevMan 5.2. The principle summary measure was the mean difference between groups calculated using the random-effects model.

Results: Eleven eligible crossover and 1 parallel trial were identified with a total of 299 participants [weighted mean ± SD age: 38 ± 3 y; weighted mean ± SD body mass index (kg/m2): 24 ± 2]. All studies were pooled for the meta-analysis. Diets enriched with MCFAs led to significantly higher high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol concentrations than diets enriched with LCSFAs (0.11 mmol/L; 95% CI: 0.07, 0.15 mmol/L) with no effect on triglyceride, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and total cholesterol concentrations. Consumption of diets rich in MCFAs significantly increased apolipoprotein A-I (apoA-I) concentrations compared with diets rich in LCSFAs (0.08 g/L; 95% CI: 0.02, 0.14 g/L). There was no evidence of statistical heterogeneity for HDL cholesterol, apoA-I, and triglyceride concentrations; however, significant heterogeneity was observed for the total cholesterol (I2 = 49%) and LDL cholesterol analysis (I2 = 58%).

Conclusion: The findings of this research demonstrate a differential effect of MCFAs and LCSFAs on HDL cholesterol concentrations. Further investigations are warranted to elucidate the mechanism by which the lipid profile is altered. This trial was registered at www.crd.york.ac.uk/PROSPERO as CRD42017078277.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Apolipoprotein A-I / blood
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cholesterol / blood*
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Fats / pharmacology*
  • Fatty Acids / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Triglycerides / blood*
  • Young Adult


  • Apolipoprotein A-I
  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids
  • Triglycerides
  • Cholesterol