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Literature Review Thursday: Fatty Acids in Liver Cells

December 2, 2011
Mei, S. et al. “Differential Roles of Unsaturated and Saturated Fatty Acids on Autophagy and Apoptosis in Hepatocytes.” Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 339.2 (2011): 487–498. Print.
Today’s article is quite different from most that I will review, but I bring it up because I believe it gives great insight into exactly HOW our diet affects our health. In particular the researchers in this study looked at the effects of saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids in liver cells. They used an in vitro design. This means that humans were not used, but rather, HepG2 cells (a human liver cell line) were manipulated in the confines of a petri dish.
To get some definitions out of the way:
 – Autophagy is a cells ability to survive under harmful circumstances
 – Apoptosis is a cell dying
        (so in essence, autophagy prevents apoptosis)
 – Saturated Fatty Acids are “bad” fats that are solid at room temperature, found in animal meats, fast foods, chips, etc
 – Unsaturated Fatty Acids are “good” fats that are liquid at room temperature, found in vegetable oils, nuts, fish, etc
The study showed that when these liver cells were covered in saturated fatty acids, they had a higher rate of apoptosis (cell death), but when cells were covered in unsaturated fatty acids, they had a greater rate of autophagy (cell survival).
This is relevant because there are many HUMAN studies that show decreasing saturated fats and increasing unsaturated fats are beneficial for many health parameters. But, doing human studies we could never determine HOW these fats were effecting our cells. This study provides a link between the proven benefits of a diet high in unsaturated fats seen in human studies (decreased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and mortality), and exactly HOW they function internally to protect our body.
Piece of Cake … Nutrition:
Diets with more unsaturated fats compared to saturated fats have many health benefits.
This study provides evidence as to HOW the fats function in our body, providing further evidence for diet modification as a means to increase health.
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