March 14, 2001

Trans fatty acid consumption increases coronary heart disease risk

A prospective study of 667 men aged 64 to 84 who were initially free of coronary heart disease revealed that the amount of trans fatty acids consumed was associated with risk of the disease. Trans fatty acids are fats which have been artificially hydrogenated to increase their shelf life, and are contained in most margarines and in vegetable shortening. Adding hydrogen creates a solid compound less subject to rancidity than liquid oils, but concerns have been voiced that hydrogenated fats not found in nature may have adverse effects on the humans that consume them. The study, published in the March 10, 2001 issue of The Lancet, examined data from the Zutphen Elderly Study, which followed a group of older men in the Netherlands. Dietary surveys and medical examinations were conducted at the study’s onset and after five and ten years. The trans fatty acid consumption for each participant was calculated with the aid of time-specific Dutch food tables. Both fatal and nonfatal heart attacks were tracked over a decade, and cause of deaths, when they occurred, were verified. Nonfatal heart attacks were confirmed by examination of hospital records.

Trans fatty acid consumption fell during the ten year period, which is a recent dietary trend in the Netherlands due to concerns regarding their potential harm. After adjustment for other cardiovascular risk factors, a high intake of trans fatty acids at the study’s baseline was found to be strongly correlated with the risk of coronary heart disease.

The authors comment that the decrease in trans fatty acid consumption in the Netherlands to 2 – 4% of their total dietary intake could have contributed to 23% fewer coronary fatalities.