Butter not as detrimental to health as first thought

Replacing butter with vegetable oils does not decrease risk for heart disease, a new study reports.

For years, vegetable oils have been recommended as a heart-healthy alternative to butter and other saturated fats. Lowering the overall cholesterol was thought to be an important element in the fight against heart attacks and heart-related diseases. In 2010, The American Heart Association sponsored a diet with saturated fats that made up 10 percent of consumed calories, though even these estimates were thought to be too lenient and the AHA encouraged the standard to be lowered to 7 percent.

The war on butter first appeared in the 1960s, when studies were able to identify the connection between vegetable oils and lowered blood clot levels, inducing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. These studies, however, ultimately proved inconclusive in the larger context of heart health, as they simply equated the trend between lowered cholesterol and lowered risk for a heart attack.

The Minnesota Coronary Survey, originally conducted between 1968 and 1973, deduced that while these oils lowered the levels of total serum cholesterol, it actually increased the likelihood of a heart attack. The experiment was conducted via a randomized clinical trial among 4,393 men and 4,664 women, all of whom were either institutionalized in mental hospitals or nursing homes. Of all the study’s participants, 1,568 were split into two groups that were fed a controlled diet for over two years which featured varying levels of saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. By the end of the experiment, researchers were unable to identify any significant cardiovascular differences between the control and test groups. These findings were among the first to invalidate vegetable oil’s legitimacy and liken its risks to its saturated fatty counterpart.

The re-evaluation of the Minnesota Coronary Survey was conducted by Christopher Ramsden and a team of other researchers at the University of North Carolina. After examining and contextualizing the data, Ramsden’s team was able to confirm the survey’s accuracy and conclude that for every 30 mg/dL drop in cholesterol, there was a 22 percent increase in the risk of a heart-related death.

The impications of these studies force medical professionals to reconsider the bar for healthy cholesterol levels, as well as their ties to cardiovascular diseases. In a study headed by Gregg C. Fonarow, Ph.D., 136,905 hospital patients were examined during their hospitalization for coronary artery disease.

After assessing their cholesterol levels, the researchers examined that while 54 percent of patients had less than 40 mg/dL, a huge risk factor for CAD, only less than half of the remaining patients had LDL levels that were less than 100 mg/dL, which is a level considered “optimal.”

Although butter has built up a worse reputation than it should have, it is still sidelined in the search for heartier fats. Those looking to lower their risk for cardiovascular disease are recommended to turn to omega-3 fatty acids.