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Trans Fats Linked to Increased Aggression

You must have heard a lot about trans fats, those most ‘shameful’ of all dietary fats, already. These unhealthy fats are industrially produced (they do not occur naturally) when vegetable oils are partially hydrogenated, creating a solid or semi-solid fat with an extended shelf life. These inexpensive fats are found in packaged snacks, deep-fried foods, baked goods, margarines and shortening. Even though being very much liked by the food industry, trans fats have a dark side when it comes to disease risk. The list of potential damages includes increasing levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol at the same time as lowering levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, raising triglyceride levels, along with promoting systemic inflammation, insulin resistance, endothelial dysfunction and visceral fat formation. In summary, trans fats represent a dietary time bomb for diabetes and cardiovascular health.

Most health conscious consumers will have known this already. But what if these unnatural fats were screwing with our brains too? An intriguing piece of research investigated the relationship between trans fats and aggressive behaviour. In an analysis of close to 1,000 adults, it found that greater intake of trans fats was strongly linked with greater irritability and aggression. It is necessary to point out here, that this was only an observational study, and whilst the authors tried to take account of confounding factors, it is not an exact science, meaning that this type of study cannot definitely confirm whether trans fats really cause aggression. But it sounds plausible, especially when we realise that trans fats interfere with the body’s ability to produce the long-chain omega-3 fat DHA, which has been shown in several studies to protect against aggression. Moreover, this research adds to recently published data which showed an association between intake of trans fats and depression.

Hence, it seems that not only do trans fats mess with the body but they could be messing with the brain too. Yet in westernised cultures, trans fats make up 2-4% of total energy intake, despite the knowledge that cutting trans fats by a mere 1% of total energy intake would prevent 11 thousand heart attacks and 7 thousand deaths each year in Great Britain alone. Moreover, given this new evidence linking intake of trans fats to adverse effects on mood and behaviour, should we allow this toxic nasty to be served up in our schools, institutions, food outlets and our homes?