Heart attacks, stroke reduced after banning trans fats

It appears the ban on trans fats that began in July 2007 in certain areas of the nation are doing what it was meant to do – reduce heart disease.  A new study led by a team at Yale University and published in the journal of JAMA Cardiology, has found since that ban, heart attacks and stroke have fallen by more than 6 percent three years after New York City and some counties within the state banned them.

To discover if banning trans fats in those areas made a difference or not in the incidence of heart disease, the researchers checked medical records of individuals living in those counties with the ban compared to those living in counties that did not ban trans fats.  What was found was that there was an additional 6.2 percent decline in hospital admissions for myocardial infarction (heart attack) and stroke among populations living in counties with versus without trans-fatty restrictions, as stated in the article.  The study did not measure the number of deaths but rather only the rate of strokes and heart attacks since that ban.

It is important to note that although the study found a link between trans fat restrictions and a lower heart attack and stroke risk, the study was not designed to prove a direct cause-and-effect link.

What are trans fats and where are they found?

Trans fat is considered by many medical professionals to be the worst type of fat a person can eat.  This type of fat, also known as trans-fatty acids has the ability to raise both LDL or “bad” cholesterol and lower HDL or “good” cholesterol – just the opposite of what should happen.  These harmful manufactured fats can also increase cholesterol levels, triglycerides, markers of systemic inflammation (c-reactive protein, interleukin 6, and tumor necrosis factor) and endothelial cell dysfunction.

Trans fats are formed when liquid oils are chemically altered using a process called hydrogenation.  This takes a liquid oil and converts it into a more solid substance making them similar to butter or lard. 

Food manufacturers have used trans fats within the food supply for years.  Foods commonly containing trans fats are cookies, crackers, pie crusts, ready-made frosting, chips, canned biscuit and cinnamon rolls, frozen pizza crusts, stick margarines, microwave popcorn, and fast food fried in trans fats such as French fries. 

The purpose of making trans fat was to help food stay fresh longer than liquid fats do.  When trans fats began to be used within the food supply, the food industry and even health advocates believed trans fats were better for health but it wasn’t until the late 1980’s that medical research began to show they were not.  It was discovered that hydrogenation used to make them solid like butter also clogs arteries which make blood vessels unhealthy and inflamed.  This makes trans fats at least as unhealthy as, if not more unhealthy than, saturated fats.

How will this affect the rest of the nation?

Fortunately, the state of New York is not the only area of the country where trans fats have been banned.  In 2018, food manufacturers will have to ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permission to use trans fats in their food products as the FDA has ruled that partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats, are no longer “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS).

Basically, this will be a nationwide ban on trans fats.  However, at this time, the FDA estimates that 80 percent of trans fats have already been removed from foods in the United States as food manufacturers have reformulated recipes for many commonly consumed foods that used to contain trans fats.  Healthier oils such as liquid oils of olive, canola and safflower oils are now being used more commonly in place of trans fats. 

A nationwide ban on trans fats has been a long time coming.  With heart disease as the leading cause of death in the U.S. and studies which have showed that individuals who consume even small amounts of trans fats have a higher risk of stroke, heart disease and sudden heart death, this ban will benefit each and every one of us.