Over the past two decades there has been a lot of research on the role that specific fats have on the risk of developing various chronic diseases especially heart disease, diabetes and recently Alzheimer's disease.
The results are far from definitive and it seems that the more research is produced, the cloudier the answers become.
A recent medical study took a different approach. They tried to determine whether specific types of fats increase the absorption of one specific highly inflammatory and toxic compound lipopolysaccharide (LPS), found in the walls of some bowel bacteria.
There are three basic classifications of fats: saturated fats which are solid at room temperature like butter, lard and coconut oil; unsaturated fats which are liquid at room temperature like olive oil; trans fats that are not found in great quantity in nature and never belong in your diet.
Unsaturated fats are divided again into two classes, omega-3 and omega-6. These fats are further divided into monounsaturated (olive oil) and polyunsaturated (corn oil) fats.
In general, saturated fats increase inflammation and unsaturated fats reduce inflammation. However, not all unsaturated fats may reduce inflammation.
In general, omega-3 fats reduce inflammation and omega-6 fats increase inflammation. Complicating this research is that cooking and other food preparation techniques can transform fats from being anti-inflammatory to pro-inflammatory.
The absorption of dietary fat stimulates the absorption of other fats, especially fats made by the bacteria in our bowels. Unsaturated fat can encourage the absorption of beneficial bacterial fats. Saturated fat promotes the absorption of inflammatory and frankly toxic bacterial fats.
One toxic and very inflammatory fat is LPS. LPS is so toxic that even in small doses it can cause rapid death. Death from many bacterial infections is promoted and mediated by the action of LPS on many organs including the heart, kidney and liver.
Once recent medical study done at Iowa State University in conjunction with University College, Cork, Ireland, looked at how different types of fat in a meal affect the absorption of LPS.
In this study healthy people ate four meals, on different days, containing four different fats: olive oil as a control; fish oil (omega-3 fat); grapeseed oil (omega-6 fat); coconut oil as the saturated fat.
Inflammatory markers in the blood, including LPS, were measure before and after each meal. The coconut oil-based meal (saturated fat) causes the greatest increase in LPS and other inflammatory compounds.
The fish oil-based meal had the lowest amount of LPS and inflammatory markers. Interestingly olive oil and omega-6 fat-based meals did not significantly elevate LPS levels.
There is robust medical research demonstrating that a diet rich in inflammatory saturated fat significantly increases the risk of heat disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, some cancers and perhaps Alzheimer's disease.
More recent research suggests that much of this inflammation may come from inflammatory bacterial fats accompanying the absorption of saturated fats. One caveat from this study was that eating some omega-3 oil with any meal blunted the absorption of LPS.
• Patrick B. Massey, MD, PH.D., is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village. His website is www.alt-med.org.