Problems with Trans Fat: How Hydrogenated Oil Endangers Your Health
(Originally published Nov. 27, 2008 – Suite101.com)
Man-made trans fats, formed by the process of hydrogenation, have numerous serious health concerns associated with them – much worse than most people realize.
Healthy dietary oils are sensitive to both heat and light. For them to remain healthy when consumed, they should be exposed to the least amount of heat and light as possible to maintain their molecular stability. Oils that are hydrogenated, however, receive no such gentle treatment.
Hydrogenation in the food industry is a commercial manufacturing process whereby vegetable oils are passed through a hydrogen gas, causing them to become semi-solid at room temperature. This process not only drastically alters the chemical makeup of the oils, but also exposes them to extremes of heat and pressure that destroy any remaining healthy components.
It’s also important to note that these man-made trans fats are different from the naturally occurring trans fats found in meat and dairy products. By most accounts, natural trans fats are consumed in far smaller quantities and tend to exhibit less of the detrimental effects shown by those derived from hydrogenated oils.
BASIC HEALTH CONCERNS
While hydrogenated oil holds many benefits for the food industry – such as longer shelf life and a more consistent texture – for consumers it holds many dangers to their health. Studies conducted by numerous independent organizations, universities and governmental institutions from around the world all confirm a host of detrimental health issues related to the trans fats garnered from this processing.
The most prominent and widely publicized health concerns stem from a direct link between trans fats and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). This link comes from studies showing that trans fats cause an increase in “bad cholesterol” (LDL) and total serum cholesterol while decreasing “good cholesterol” (HDL).
However, if the effects of trans fats stopped there, they might not be considered much more dangerous than, say, saturated fats. Unfortunately, the list of problems goes on.
Far more disturbing than studies showing a link between trans fats and CHD is research suggesting ties between trans fats and an ever-expanding list of chronic illnesses.
Here’s a rundown of recent findings:
- Researchers at Sao Paulo Federal University in Brazil in spring 2008 found that eating foods rich in trans fats while pregnant or breastfeeding could lead to fatter babies.
- A study published in Archives of Neurology in February 2003 found a link between trans fats and Alzheimer’s Disease.
- A 2006 study published in New Scientist found that monkeys fed a diet high in trans fats exhibited an abnormal weight gain even when calories were controlled. A study published in Obesity in 2007 showed similar results along with impaired insulin sensitivity (suggesting ties to diabetes).
- In 1981, a study published in Acta Biologica et Medica Germanica found that trans fats were metabolized differently than other fats in the liver and acted as inhibitors of its enzymes (suggesting a link with liver dysfunction).
- A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that every 2% increase in the intake of energy from trans fats was associated with a 73% greater risk of ovulatory infertility.
- The American Association for Cancer Research published findings in 2006 that linked trans fats from hydrogenated vegetable oils with an increased prostate cancer risk while a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found ties to breast cancer.
Though much of this research is limited in scope and not all studies agree, research is ongoing and building quickly on the work that came before. Only time will tell if further investigation vindicates trans fats of any of the charges levied against them…or if more will be imposed.