Trans fat levels are declining in the bloodstreams of Americans

The intense battle that public health advocates have waged against trans fats appears to be working: A new report shows that since 2000, levels of trans fats in Americans’ bloodstreams have plummeted nearly 60 percent.

Once widely found in fried, baked and packaged foods, trans fats have been slowly removed from the food supply after studies linked them to heart disease and obesity. Many cities have banned their use in restaurants, and public health experts have pressed companies to strip them from processed foods like cookies, soups, crackers and frozen foods.

In a research letter published in the latest issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association today, researchers found that as trans fats have disappeared from supermarket shelves and restaurant kitchens, they have also been disappearing from Americans’ bloodstreams. The study showed that in a nationally representative sample of middle-aged Americans, levels of trans fats fell 58 percent from 2000 to 2009…

Trans fats have been widely vilified since the late 1990s, when large studies showed that even slight increases in their intake could significantly elevate heart risks. Advocacy groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, one of the most vocal opponents of trans fats, sued fast food companies that used them in their foods, and cities including New York and Philadelphia have prohibited restaurants from cooking with them.

As controversy grew, many food manufacturers and restaurants gave in to pressure to remove trans fats — also known as partially hydrogenated oils — and began using alternatives like canola or sunflower oil.

In the new study…trans fat levels fell 58 percent, but there were also improvements in cholesterol and triglycerides. Levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, fell almost 10 units on average, to 119.2 milligrams per deciliter of blood from 128.2 milligrams. Meanwhile, levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, rose to 55.8 milligrams from an average of 49.6 milligrams.

At the same time, triglyceride levels, a measure of fat in the blood, fell on average about 20 units, to 109 milligrams from roughly 131 milligrams. The American Heart Association considers triglyceride levels of 100 milligrams to be “optimal.” Health authorities say HDL should be above 40 milligrams in men and higher than 50 milligrams in women, while LDL levels in men and women should ideally be lower than 100 milligrams…

Partially hydrogenated oils could be removed pretty much entirely from supermarkets, processed foods – and our bloodstreams – by an order from the FDA. I know every one has kept the heat on this medical/political enclave since the election of Obama. But, the pressure hasn’t been sufficient. Maybe we relented too soon when we started to get some movement on food quality, food safety.

Maybe it’s time to ask questions, try to turn the attention of our elected representative from oil-bearing sands in Canada to those partially-hydrogenated oils still being stuffed into our circulatory systems?