Health Risks of Saturated Fats Aggravated by Immune Response

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by Kara Elam |

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A recently published study led by UK researchers from Imperial College of London (ICL) has shown an association between high levels of saturated fat in the blood and an increase in inflammatory induced tissue damage.  The study entitled, “Triglyceride-Rich Lipoproteins Modulate the Distribution and Extravasation of Ly6C/Gr1low Monocytes,” was published in the latest edition of Cell Reports, and has significant implications for patients with immune disorders, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

About Lupus

SLE is a dynamic immune disorder that occurs when antigens become unable to differentiate between self and pathogenic foreign invaders, resulting in the development of dysfunctional antibodies that damage organs including the skin, joints, brain and kidney. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), SLE affects women more often than men (9 out of 10 patients are women). There are many potential devastating consequences of an SLE diagnosis including kidney disease, nervous system involvement (seizures, memory loss, headaches) and heart disease (heart attacks, strokes).

About this Study

To investigate the effect of high amounts of saturated fats in the blood on the body’s immune response, the researchers utilized a mouse model that were bred to have an unusually high level of saturated fat circulating in their blood. Analysis of the animals’ blood and immune function showed that the abnormal amounts of saturated fats increased the number of white blood cells that migrated to tissues of the vital organs.  The theory that is still being tested is that the increased migration of white cells to these important organs results in inflammation and the observed tissue damage.

In a college press release, Dr Kevin Woollard, Phd, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Medicine, ICL, and lead study author, stated, “The mice we studied were treated with a drug that caused them to accumulate extremely high levels of fat in their blood. Although it is unusual, humans do sometimes have measurements approaching those levels, either from an inherited condition, or through eating fatty foods.

Dr. Woollard, continued, “Modern lifestyles seem to go hand-in-hand with high levels of fat in the blood. This fat comes from the food and drink that we consume; for example, you’d be surprised how much saturated fat a latte contains, and some people drink several through the course of the day. We think that maintaining a relatively high concentration of saturated fats for example by constantly snacking on cakes, biscuits, and pastries could be causing monocytes to migrate out of the blood and into surrounding tissues.”

Dr. Woollard and his colleagues plan to utilize the results from these experiments and focus their future studies on investigating the link between the amount of saturated fat in the blood of patients with inflammatory diseases, such as SLE, and their risk of cardiovascular disease.

In a statement explaining this potential link, Dr. Woollard, said, “Interestingly, people with certain immune disorders affecting monocytes, including some inflammatory and autoimmune diseases like lupus, can have unexpectedly high levels of saturated fats in their blood and also are more likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes at a younger age.”