Trans Fats and Heart Disease

17 Mar 2013

According to the National Safety Council website seat belts saved an estimated 5000 lives per year between 2004 and 2008. A whopping 5000 people per year. In that same time period, according to an analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) an estimated 144,000 to 250,000 heart attacks would have been prevented annually if Trans fats were eliminated from the American diet. Why are people so reluctant to give up their Trans fats yet buckle up when they are driving to their favorite Trans fat food outlet?

We have all been educated for decades about the importance of seat belts but little has been emphasized by the health care, manufactured food or government organizations as it relates to the dangers of Trans fat consumption and heart disease. What is amazing is that Ancel Keyes, a nutritionist commissioned by the Eisenhower Administration, concluded in 1958 that Trans fats were a prime contributor to the rising incidence of heart disease in America.

It wasn’t until 2006 that the Food and Drug Administration mandated the Trans fat labeling of all grocery store foods and supplements. The problem with the labeling process was that if a commodity contains less than 500 mg per serving then the food label can claim it has zero grams of Trans fat per serving. Additionally, restaurants and other food outlets are not required to provide that information to consumers.

Data published in the NEJM article, however, demonstrates that even minuscule amounts of Trans fats in the diet dramatically increase our risk of developing heart disease. The review article also points out that if a diet that is high in saturated fats or monounsaturated fats is replaced by Trans fats one sees a rise in bad (LDL) cholesterol, a drop in good (HDL) cholesterol and a tripling of sudden death from heart disease.

While it is true that total elimination of Trans fat in the American diet would not eliminate heart disease, it is true that millions of Americans would not have died since the 2006 food labeling mandate if this fat had been eliminated. It is clear that education about the dangers of Trans fats are lacking. Presently there are no consequences for allowing the death from these fats as compared to drug-induced toxicities that were attempting to stop the diseases caused by Trans fats.

Hopefully, the day is coming when these fats are removed from our diet and we see massive drops in pain, suffering, medical expenses and death from Trans fats. This would be real health care reform. In the meantime, learn to read the food label in the ingredient section. If the list contains hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, find an alternative food product as these are the Trans fats we should be avoiding.

National Safety Council website
New England Journal of Medicine 2006;354:1601-13
42 Days to a New Life, M.F. Lyons;2007.