Fast Food Linked to Liver Damage and Increased Good Cholesterol

Today I saw an article out of Paris with the headline: Fast-food binge harms liver, but boosts good cholesterol: study. It got me thinkin’. Lead researcher Frederik Nystrom, from the Swedish University Hospital of Linkoping said he, “…got the idea for his study from the 2004 Oscar-nominated documentary “Supersize Me,” in which filmmaker Morgan Spurlock asked doctors to monitor him over a 30-day period in which he ate at McDonalds morning, noon and night.”

Nystrom and fellow researchers “…asked 12 men and six women in their twenties, all slim and in good health, to eat two meals per day at McDonalds, Burger King or other fast-food restaurants over four weeks”. They were also told to refrain from exercising with the goal being to increase body weight over four weeks, by 10 to 15 percent. As in “Supersize Me”, blood samples were taken and levels of the enzyme alanine aminotransferase (ALT) were monitored as a marker for liver damage.

Volunteers’ levels of ALT increased dramatically “after only one week, and quadrupled on average over the entire period.” One subject had to be removed from the study because his ALT levels were 10 times normal. This is a study that I find especially interesting because of the second major finding. They found that the so-called “good cholesterol”, HDL, had increased over the course of the study.

I was sure they’d misinterpreted the data or something. Then I thought about what we now know about trans fats, unsaturated fats (poly and mono), and the overabundance of Omega 6 fatty acids in our diet to the near exclusion of Omega 3s. Many countries in Europe have banned hydrogenated oils, and I wonder if in adhering to this study, the participants got more of a proportion of saturated fats in their diet than unsaturated.

Many of the studies originally stating saturated fats were bad for us, lumped trans fats in with saturated fats. Now we know that trans fats (found in hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils) are incredibly harmful. Saturated fats are still a whole and naturally occurring food (with quite a few health benefits), though something we probably shouldn’t indulge in too much (as the effects on the liver prove to be quite dire).

With the media trend in the last few decades of foisting poly and mono unsaturated fats so heavily on us, we’ve gone way too far in the direction of reliance on oils high in Omega 6 (polyunsaturated) fatty acids. Now, I don’t think all that fried fast food is a rich source of Omega 3 fatty acids (the ones current studies say we should be eating more of), but maybe it was proportionally lower in Omega 6s?

I guess I’m just wondering, if these researchers did the very same study here in the US, where hydrogenated oils are still being perpetrated on the public as a matter of common practice, would the effects on HDL be the same? There are just so many variables, it’s impossible to have every factor accounted for. What do you make of the study?

4 thoughts on “Fast Food Linked to Liver Damage and Increased Good Cholesterol”

  1. Ah, I think you are right. The “French Paradox” explains a lot.
    I do get a hankering for (DELETED FOR VEGETARIAN FRIENDS) :-p every now and then, but I think maximizing your time in the kitchen and moderation is part of a healthy lifestyle 🙂

  2. Manggy – Yeah, I don’t actually think there is a French “Paradox”. I just think Americans think they can scarf fast food in their car with a bucket of coffee and wonder why they are getting fat, when traditional European diets encourage savoring smaller portions of real whole food, in community with loved ones and don’t obsess about diet. Hey, I understand…we all get hankerings for things we know aren’t good for us, but those are about treating ourselves. Not everyday foods. I totally agree, cooking your own food the majority of the time from scratch is the best way to go. Thanks for your comment. It’s great to see you.

  3. the cholesterol findings are so misleading because the rise in HDL that accompanies the rise in LDL/VLDL is well known. In fact, most obese individuals actually have fantastic HDL levels…my problem with this is that instead of suggesting healthy ways to increase HDL- stop smoking, exercise, a glass of red wine each night, etc, they are putting a positive spin on the benefits of over consumption of fast food! gross! it really upsets me to think about this country and the way we are manipulated into consumerism when it comes to food. I just read the book The Omnivore’s Dilema and the author (not a researcher, just a journalist) really did a nice job exposing the reality of the agriculture/industrial/military complex we are all victims of….

  4. Mary – Thank you for your comment. You make an interesting point about the rising level of HDL corresponding with the rising level of LDL. I recently wrote a review of Michael Pollan’s (author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma) newest book, “In Defense of Food”

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