Alzheimer’s risk may be 75% higher for people who eat trans fats

Updated 11:37 PM EDT, Wed October 23, 2019
Now playing
01:38
How Alzheimer's destroys the brain
CNN
Now playing
02:20
A wildfire is closing in on their home. Hear why they are refusing to leave
Now playing
04:48
See GOP lawmaker's reaction when he's confronted over insurrection remarks
Now playing
03:11
Doctor: 'We've all lost patients here in the last few weeks'
CNN
Now playing
03:35
See why this restaurant owner has been targeted by Marjorie Taylor Greene
CNN
Now playing
03:10
'Sounds like a train': Firefighter describes battling Bootleg Fire
CNN
Now playing
02:29
Flight attendants receive defense training as incidents with violent passengers rise
CNN
Now playing
05:13
Keilar rolls the tape on Biles' critics: Mental health is real
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 28: Ariarne Titmus of Team Australia reacts with her coach Dean Boxall of Team Australia after winning the gold medal in the Women's 200m Freestyle Final on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 28: Ariarne Titmus of Team Australia reacts with her coach Dean Boxall of Team Australia after winning the gold medal in the Women's 200m Freestyle Final on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:49
She just won a gold medal. Why she won't look at social media
gupta
CNN
gupta
Now playing
02:54
Why do vaccinated people need to mask? See Gupta's answer
An employee gathers shopping carts at Walmart, July 22, 2020 in Burbank, California.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
An employee gathers shopping carts at Walmart, July 22, 2020 in Burbank, California.
Now playing
01:01
Walmart will cover college tuition for its workers
CNN
Now playing
05:08
Raisman shares concern for Biles, calls USA Gymnastics 'absolute disaster'
sen boxer
CNN
sen boxer
Now playing
02:55
Senator recounts being attacked in broad daylight
Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Simone Biles (USA) wears her warm up gear after competing on the vault during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports
Danielle Parhizkaran/USA Today Sports
Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Simone Biles (USA) wears her warm up gear after competing on the vault during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports
Now playing
01:47
'Worst nightmare': Simone Biles withdraws from team finals
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush arrives for a kick-off rally with his wife Amanda to announced he will run for Texas Attorney General, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/AP
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush arrives for a kick-off rally with his wife Amanda to announced he will run for Texas Attorney General, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Now playing
02:22
Donald Trump snubs George P. Bush with endorsement
Now playing
03:09
This is what Republicans said as Capitol police told their stories on the Hill
Now playing
01:49
See Cheney's reaction after GOP leader blames Pelosi for insurrection
CNN —  

People with higher levels of trans fats in their blood may be 50% to 75% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia from any cause, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology.

“This study demonstrates that there are negative ‘brain/cognitive’ outcomes, in addition to the known cardiovascular outcomes, that are related to a diet that has (a) high content of trans fats,” said neurologist Dr. Neelum T. Aggarwal, who was not involved in the study. Aggarwal, a member of the American Academy of Neurology, is co-leader of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago.

A significant study

Over 1,600 Japanese men and women without dementia were followed over a 10-year period. A blood test for trans fat levels was done at the start of the study and their diets were analyzed.

Researchers then adjusted for other factors that could affect the risk of dementia, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. They found that people with the two highest levels of trans fats were 52% and 74% more likely to develop dementia than those with the lowest levels.

“The study used blood marker levels of trans fats, rather than more traditionally used dietary questionnaires, which increases the scientific validity of the results,” said neurologist Dr. Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.

“This study is important as it builds upon prior evidence that dietary intake of trans fats can increase risk of Alzheimer’s dementia,” said Isaacson, who was also not involved in the study.

What are trans fats

Trans fats can occur naturally in small amounts in certain meat and dairy foods, but by far the greatest exposure comes from the man-made version.

Also called trans fatty acids, artificial trans fats are created by an industrialized process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid (think of semi-soft margarine and shortening).

The food industry loves trans fats because they are cheap to produce, last a long time and give foods a great taste and texture.

Besides fried foods, trans fats are found in coffee creamer, cakes, pie crusts, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, biscuits and dozens of other processed foods.

In the Japanese study, researchers found sweet pastries were the strongest contributor to higher trans fats levels. Margarine was next, followed by candies, caramels, croissants, non-dairy creamers, ice cream and rice crackers.

US regulatory action

After extensive research revealed the connection between trans fats and the increase of bad cholesterol (LDL), combined with a reduction of good cholesterol (HDL), the US Food and Drug Administration banned trans fats in 2015.

Companies were given three years to stop using them; then the FDA began granting extensions to various parts of the industry. The latest extension runs out January 1.

But even if every manufacturer complies by the first of the year, that doesn’t mean trans fats are gone from the grocery shelves. According to the FDA, if one serving of the food contains less than 0.5 grams, companies can label the food as “0 grams” of trans fats.

Even in small doses, artificial trans fats will still be around to contribute to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other conditions, such as dementia.

“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,” said study author Dr. Toshiharu Ninomiya, a professor at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, in a statement.

“People at risk still need to pay careful attention to nutrition labels,” Isaacson said. “When it comes to nutrition labels, the fewer ingredients, the better! Focus on natural whole food, and minimize or avoid those that are highly processed.”

Aggarwal added: “This message must be delivered in countries where the ban of trans fats has not been enacted or difficult to enforce.”