The negative effects of hydrogenated trans fats and what to do about them

  • Fred A. Kummerow
    Correspondence address: 205 Burnsides Research Laboratory, 1208 West Pennsylvania Ave, Urbana, IL 61801, United States. Tel.: +1 217 333 1806; fax: +1 217 333 7370.
    Department of Bioscience, College of Veterinary Medicine, The Burnsides Research Laboratory, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801, United States
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      Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils have been in the American diet since 1900. More than 50 years ago they were found to contain trans fatty acids that were different from natural fatty acids in plant oils and in animal fat. There was growing evidence that the consumption of trans fats have negative health effects, including increasing plasma lipid levels. In 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that the amount of trans fat in a food item must be stated on the label after January 1, 2006; food items could be labeled 0% trans if they contain less than 0.5 g/serving.
      Since the initial ruling, it is now known that the fatty acids in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil are 14 cis and trans isomers of octadecenoic and octadecadienoic acids that are formed during hydrogenation. They cause inflammation and calcification of arterial cells: known risk factors for coronary heart disease (CHD). They inhibit cyclooxygenase, an enzyme required for the conversion of arachidonic acid to prostacyclin, necessary for the regulation of blood flow.
      There have been several reformulations of hydrogenated fat containing varying amounts of trans fatty acids and linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that is converted to arachidonic acid. Epidemiological data suggest that when trans fat percentages go up and linoleic acid percentages go down, death rates rise; when trans goes down, death rates go down. In spite of the harmful effects of trans fats, the FDA allows it in the food supply as long as the amount in a food item is declared on the label. Trans fat should be banned from the food supply.


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