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Trans Fats Up Heart Disease Risk

Study Shows Tripled Risk for Heavy Users; Doctors Call for Ban
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 15, 2006 (Chicago) -- Trans fats have jumped out of the deep fryer into a public grilling once again, with new research suggesting even small amounts can harm the heart.

An analysis of data from the large Nurses' Health Study shows that women who ate the most trans fats were more than three times as likely to develop heart disease as those who consumed the least.

The findings, presented here at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association (AHA), support recommendations to avoid trans fat as much as possible, says researcher Qi Sun, MD, of the Harvard School of Public Health.

AHA President Ray Gibbons, MD, went further. The professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says he supports a ban.

"There was no threshold below which they were safe," Sun says.

But "We saw a linear relationship: The more trans fats you consume, the worse it is for your heart," he tells WebMD.

Trans Fats in Processed Foods

The report will no doubt please New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has called for a ban on the fats in that city.

Once praised for making crunchy foods crunchier and creamy foods creamier, trans fats are in fact one of the most dangerous forms of fat.

Engineered from liquid oils through a process known as hydrogenation, they lurk in most processed foods -- including cookies, baked goods, popcorn, margarines, shortenings, crackers, doughnuts, chips, frozen waffles, and french fries. You can't get away from them.

Doctors have known for years that these fats can be damaging to the heart, but the new study is one of the first to quantify just how harmful they are, Sun says.

Also, the study was unique in that the researchers used trans fatty acid levels in red blood cells as a marker of participants' trans fat intake. Past studies used food questionnaires or food diaries, which depend upon people's often poor recall, he says.

Just 1.3 Grams Harmful

The Nurses Health Study is one of the longest-running major women's health investigations ever undertaken.

In this research, Sun and colleagues looked at the trans fat consumption of 166 study participants who developed heart disease between 1989 and 1995, and 327 women who did not.

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