- Trans fatty acids, or trans fats, are a type of fat that has long been linked to health risks, including heart disease.
- New research has found that trans fats may also significantly increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, by as much as 75%.
- Although the FDA banned Trans fats in the US in 2018, they can still be found in some processed foods manufactured before that date. They’re also found naturally in meat and dairy.
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Trans fatty acids, a type of unsaturated fat often used in food processing and added to fried food, snacks, and pastries, have long been associated with “bad” cholesterol, heart disease, and other health problems.
There’s now evidence to suggest that they’re also linked to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, according to research published Wednesday in the journal Neurology.
Researchers from Kyushu University, Kobe University, and Nakamura-Gakuen University in Japan tracked 1,628 elderly Japanese residents without dementia for 10 years, including by taking blood samples and analyzing their diets.
They found that those with the highest levels of trans fats in their blood were 52% to 75% more likely to develop dementia than people with the lowest levels of trans fats. This was the case even after adjusting for other dietary and lifestyle factors, including total calorie intake and consumption of other types of fats.
The researchers also pinpointed sweet pastries as the strongest contributor to higher trans fats levels in the blood, followed by margarine.
“This study is important as it builds upon prior evidence that dietary intake of trans fats can increase risk of Alzheimer’s dementia,” neurologist Dr. Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, told CNN. Isaacson wasn’t involved in the study.
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Trans fats are banned in the US, but some products still contain them
But some foods like margarine, cookies, snacks, and other processed foods still contain artficial trans fats since the FDA extended the deadline to June 2019 to allow companies to reformulate their products. Those items containing trans fats can still be sold until January 2021, according to the FDA.
“In the United States, the small amounts still allowed in foods can really add up if people eat multiple servings of these foods, and trans fats are still allowed in many other countries,” study author Dr. Toshiharu Ninomiya, a professor at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, said in a statement.
Other foods, such as meat and dairy, naturally contain some trans fats. Beef, lamb, cheese, and butterfat contain small amounts of trans fats, but it’s not clear if these are as bad for cholesterol levels as artificial trans fats, according to the American Heart Association.
The association recommends avoiding trans fat as much as possible. To start, be wary of items containing hydrogenated vegetable oils, a common source of trans fat.