The amount and type of dietary fat have long been associated with the risk of CVD. Arterial stiffness and endothelial dysfunction are important risk factors in the aetiology of CHD. A range of methods exists to assess vascular function that may be used in nutritional science, including clinic and ambulatory blood pressure monitoring, pulse wave analysis, pulse wave velocity, flow-mediated dilatation and venous occlusion plethysmography. The present review focuses on the quantity and type of dietary fat and effects on blood pressure, arterial compliance and endothelial function. Concerning fat quantity, the amount of dietary fat consumed habitually appears to have little influence on vascular function independent of fatty acid composition, although single high-fat meals postprandially impair endothelial function compared with low-fat meals. The mechanism is related to increased circulating lipoproteins and NEFA which may induce pro-inflammatory pathways and increase oxidative stress. Regarding the type of fat, cross-sectional data suggest that saturated fat adversely affects vascular function whereas polyunsaturated fat (mainly linoleic acid (18 : 2n-6) and n-3 PUFA) are beneficial. EPA (20 : 5n-3) and DHA (22 : 6n-3) can reduce blood pressure, improve arterial compliance in type 2 diabetics and dyslipidaemics, and augment endothelium-dependent vasodilation. The mechanisms for this vascular protection, and the nature of the separate physiological effects induced by EPA and DHA, are priorities for future research. Since good-quality observational or interventional data on dietary fatty acid composition and vascular function are scarce, no further recommendations can be suggested in addition to current guidelines at the present time.
Abbreviations: ALA, α-linolenic acid; DVP, digital volume pulse; eNOS, endothelial NO synthase; FMD, flow-mediated dilatation; LA, linoleic acid; LCP, long-chain PUFA; PGI, prostacyclin; PWV, pulse wave velocity