Maternal Intake of “Saturated Fat” Causes Liver Disease — You Know, the Unsaturated Kind of Saturated Fat

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According to a recent article on ScienceDaily, scientists have discovered that mothers who eat too much saturated fat during pregnancy will give their future child severe fatty liver disease once he or she becomes an adult.

The use of words in this article like “mother,” “child,” and “adulthood” suggests that the researchers performed some type of scientific research in humans. In fact, ScienceDaily goes so far as to claim that the researchers were studying the consumption of high-fat diets during “a woman's pregnancy.”

Nowhere in the article do the authors inform the reader that the research was performed in mice. This is the first time I have ever read of a mouse referred to as a “woman.”

The most egregious distortion of the study, however, comes from one of the researchers himself:

Professor Christopher Byrne, with colleagues Dr Felino Cagampang and Dr Kim Bruce, of the University’s School of Medicine and researchers at King’s College London, conducted the study, funded by the BBSRC. Prof Byrne explained: “This research shows that too much saturated fat in a mother’s diet can affect the developing liver of a fetus, making it more susceptible to developing fatty liver disease later in life. An unhealthy saturated fat-enriched diet in the child and young adult compounds the problem further causing a severe form of the fatty liver disease later in adult life.”

Really, “saturated fat” causes liver disease? This stands in surprising contrast to other rodent studies showing that saturated fat prevents liver disease:

  • A 1995 paper in the journal Gastroenterology lauded “dietary saturated fatty acids” as “a novel treatment for alcoholic liver disease” after showing that substitution of saturated palm oil for polyunsaturated fish oil reduced alcohol-induced liver damage.
  • A more recent paper published in the Journal of Nutrition 2004 showed that saturated fat from MCT oil (medium-chain fats similar to those in coconut oil) and beef tallow reduced alcohol-induced liver damage when substituted for polyunsaturated corn oil. In fact, they replaced 20 percent, 45 percent, or two-thirds of the corn oil with saturated fat and found that the more saturated fat they used, the greater the protective effect.
  • An even more recent paper published in the journal Hepatology in 2005 found that rats fed corn oil readily developed liver damage when fed over a quarter of their calories as alcohol, but rats fed saturated cocoa butter were virtually immune to liver damage when consuming the same amount of alcohol.
  • A 2007 study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism found that although corn oil-based high-fat diets can induce non-alocholic fatty liver disease in rodents, long-term feeding of high-fat diets based on coconut oil or butter cannot.

So how is it that “saturated fat” wound up causing liver disease in the offspring of these mice?

If we look at “supplementary table 1,” we find that the “saturated fat” used in this study was mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. In fact, 22 percent of the fat on the low-fat diet was saturated, while only 15 percent of the fat on the high-fat diet was saturated!
That means that less than seven percent of the calories from the “unhealthy saturated-fat-enriched diet” actually came from saturated fat.

The “unhealthy saturated fat-enriched diet” actually contained 44 percent of its fat as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and almost twenty percent of its total calories as PUFA. This is in great excess of the PUFA consumption seen even in the Standard American Diet (SAD), loaded in processed PUFA-rich vegetable oils.

Apparently “saturated fat” consumed during a “woman's pregnancy” leads to liver disease once the “child” reaches “adulthood” only when the “saturated fat” is the highly polyunsaturated kind one would find in corn oil and the “woman” is a light, fluffy critter no one would ever mistake for a human.

What can we learn from this study? Perhaps that we can never trust the news account of a research study. Unfortunately we cannot even trust the quotes in those news account taken from the researchers themselves.

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  1. Has anyone ever done a real PUFA study with healthy PUFA oils that haven’t been denatured and damaged by processing before they even leave the processing plant?
    This is the elephant in the room, IMHO.
    Are processed, denatured, damaged, and toxic PUFA’s bad for you? Duh!
    I already know that. What I want to know are the health impacts of properly processed and reasonably undamaged PUFA’s. Udo’s Oil appears to be the closest thing a city dweller can get their hands on. Back in the day, the Royals and elites of Europe pressed their seed oils on an as needed basis and ingested them in short order.
    In short, the correct question has never even been asked, at least as far as I can tell.
    What impacts on cellular, tissue, and organ health does ingesting healthy and balanced seed oils produce?

    1. There is no “healthy processed” oil in commercial scale. The process would need to be extremely delicate and unpractical, for nothing. Fats get liquid at hotter temperatures, but what about oils? Well, they go rancid. Mostly when exposed to light, oxygen and heat. Well guess what? Our body has all of those! Oxygen in our blood, at 97.7F and light from the sun. There is no way to get around it mate, sorry

  2. Perhaps the damage of polyunsaturated fat is or mainly is caused by the absence of saturated fat?!?! The mice in the study were mainly getting a wallop of polyunsaturates.

    And you can’t expect the abstract of a research project to reflect the real results
    of the study either. Oft, after a research project is finished they bring in a statistician
    to come up with some publishable result. Sort of like shooting at a barn and painting a
    bullseye around the bullet hole.

  3. Thanks for sharing such nice information here. I like this site as it is very informative and hence people who will come across this site will gain lot of information about it. I am very glad to being a part of this site. I will visit this site in future too.

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  4. I agree with one of the review that In the absence of PUFA, alcohol doesn't produce cirrhosis. Saturated fats allow the fibrosis to regress! I agree that "unhealthy saturated-fat-enriched diet" actually came from saturated fat.

    womens health

  5. Michael — thanks for the welcome!

    Joe — interesting, thanks!

    Alex — it appears that Byrne and perhaps other authors had in mind a scientifically sound terminology to use in the journals where reviewers would exhibit skepticism and propaganda, on the other hand, for an unwitting public. But they discount the blogosphere. 🙂

  6. Breakdown products of PUFA (isoprostanes and 4-HNE) are found in the blood of people with alcoholic liver disease (Aleynik, et al.,1989)

    In the absence of PUFA, alcohol doesnt produce cirrhosis. Saturated fats allow the fibrosis to regress!


  7. What can we learn from this study? Perhaps that we can never trust the news account of a research study. Unfortunately we cannot even trust the quotes in those news account taken from the researchers themselves.

    Lesson #1 in learning to read a study. 🙂

    Welcome back to the blogosphere.


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