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Dietary reduction of Saturated Fatty Acids from early childhood reduces Atherosclerosis in Adolescence

Author Prof. Jürgen Spranger, University Department of Pediatrics Mainz

Atherosclerosis, the intravascular accretion of cholesterol, fatty acids and calcium phosphate, begins in early life.
To learn if this can be prevented by dietary measures, 1,062 infants, born between 1989 and 1991, were randomised into 2 groups at the age of 7 months:
A) a group receiving personalised dietary counselling and B) a control group [1]. Parents in both groups were encouraged to feed their children a diet rich in unsaturated fats, avoiding excess saturated fats. Only parents in group A) received individualised dietary counselling twice a year, beginning at the age of 8 months until the age of 20 years.
Participants in control group B) without professional intervention were also seen biannually until the age of 7 and annually thereafter. Food consumption was recorded by analysis of 4-day food records and subsequent calculation of nutrient intake using a standard program.

At the end of the trial, 37.7% of the participants in group A) had met the target reduction of saturated fats and increase of unsaturated fats. In the control group, only 17.8% of the participants had reached this goal. In other words, regular dietary advice improved the average adherence to a low-fat diet.
In both groups, the dietary effect on the development of atherosclerosis was determined by measuring intima-media thickness and distensibility of the abdominal aorta and common carotid artery with ultrasonography every two years during adolescence. The measurements showed that the arterial walls were significantly thinner and more elastic in participants who had achieved the dietary targets – reduced saturated fats as recorded in the diet analysis, no matter if they belonged to group A) or B).

Comment: The study shows that the early dietary reduction of saturated fats – an important part of the so-called Mediterranean diet – keeps the arteries slim and elastic already in adolescence. The families who received regular counselling from nutrition experts were more likely to reach this goal.

[1] Laitinen TT, Nuotio J, Rovio SP (2020) Dietary fats and atherosclerosis from childhood to adulthood. Pediatrics 145(4):e20192786. doi: 10.1542/peds.2019-2786. Epub 2020 Mar 24