New research published in the journal Neurology, shows that trans fats could have a serious impact on one's brain health.

Gone are the days of swapping out butter for margarine for the sake of our health (except for perhaps, a few of our grandmothers), but trans fats have been lurking in our food supply for decades under the name "partially hydrogenated oil." While the FDA has finally cracked down on trans fats in the last few years—banning the use of partially hydrogenated oils in food and beverage production—companies still have until the first of the new year to eliminate them entirely from their products.

pouring creamer into coffee
Credit: emariya

Though these trans fats will soon be phased out of the U.S. food supply forever (FDA had originally made their deadline June, 2018, but gave manufactuers until January to transition products out of the marketplace), new research shows they can still make an impact on our health for years to come.

Many of us are aware that trans fat consumption is related to poor heart health and an increased risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes, but a new study out of Japan shows they can be just as dangerous for our brains. Researchers studied 1,628 Japanese adults ages 60 and older for a decade, none of which had dementia at baseline. Over the 10 years, 377 individuals developed dementia.

After controlling for other factors and grouping participants in four groups based on presence of trans fat in their blood levels, those in the highest quartile showed to have a 50% increased risk of dementia compared to those in the bottom quartile and were nearly 40% more likely to develop Alzheimer's.

The Bottom Line

It's important to note that this is an observational study and therefore, we cannot conclude that trans fats directly cause dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. Additionally, trans fats do exist in small amounts in animal products and are therefore are difficult to avoid completely. It's unclear if naturally occurring trans fats pose the same health risks as artificial trans fats.

Most companies have switched to using other oils at this point. However, some trans fat may exist in higher amounts in highly processed foods like some fried foods, prepackaged baked goods and snacks, frozen meals, pie crusts, tortillas and margarine spreads. Even some jars of peanut butter and containers of coffee creamer could contain trans fat. Be sure to check those labels (looking out for partially hydrogenated oil) to steer clear of this ingredient, as this study does show elaic acid, the most common form of trans fat, does linger in your blood, which could cause these negative long-term effects. You also may want to consider making your own versions of your favorite snacks and sweets at home or look for cost-effective alternatives with a cleaner ingredients list.