Trans fats ‘may help prevent heart deaths’

A processed food product demonised because of its allegedly toxic effects may be safe in small amounts and one version could even protect against heart deaths, research has shown.

Trans fatty acids, also known as trans or hydrogenated fats, have previously been linked to high cholesterol, heart conditions, strokes, diabetes and some cancers.

High intakes have even been associated with an increased risk of infertility and Alzheimer’s disease.

But new research now suggests that small amounts of artificially-produced trans fat in food are nothing to worry about and a naturally occurring trans fatty acid found in milk and meat may actually be beneficial to health.

Lead scientist Marcus Kleber, from Heidelberg University in Germany, said: “Our results show that the low levels of industrially produced trans fatty acids we found did not pose a health risk, and therefore could be regarded as safe.

“We also found that trans-palmitoleic acid (a naturally occurring trans fatty acid found in milk and meat from ruminant animals) is associated with better blood glucose levels and fewer deaths from any cause, but especially a lower risk of sudden cardiac death.”

Other experts warned the public not to be misled by findings which may have been influenced by confounding factors, and reinforced the message that trans fats are not a healthy addition to diet.

Artificial trans fats are created when oil is treated with hydrogen, hydrogenated Trans fatty acids to make it more solid.

They were widely used in the past as ingredients in processed foods, such as cakes, biscuits and pies, and for frying.

Consumption of artificial trans fats has been greatly reduced in Europe, where there have been calls to limit or outlaw the ingredients.

In June, US regulator the Food and Drug Administration clamped down on artificial trans fats by revoking their “generally recognised as safe” status and effectively banning them from food products.

Dr Kleber said that the team was surprised to find that naturally occurring trans fatty acids were associated with lower death rates, chiefly because of a reduced risk of dying from sudden cardiac arrest.

Writing in the European Heart Journal, the researchers said most studies highlighting health risks associated with trans fats had recruited patients decades ago when trans fatty acids levels in food were higher than they are today.


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