Trans Fats Put Older Women At Risk for Stroke and Memory Loss

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Trans Fats Put Older Women At Risk for Stroke and Memory Loss

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Now you might think with that title that I’m being ageist, and/or sexist, to all my older women readers.  On the contrary, as a cardiologist, I want to help all of my older women readers to stay youthful and healthy for as long as possible.  That’s why I’m giving you ladies the inside scoop on something you may be eating that’s upping your risk for brain damage.

Ladies Over 50:  Trans Fats Up Your Risk of Stroke and Memory Loss    

Are you a woman over 50? Are you post menopausal? Do you consume foods that contain trans fats? If so, you are at higher risk for cognitive impairment, and even stroke.  Notice I didn’t say consuming too much trans fats…just consuming them period.  That’s because, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no okay level for consumption of trans fats.

Even though the FDA says you can safely consume 1.11 grams of trans fats daily, I feel you should just completely ban them from your diet wherever you find them.

But finding trans fats is the trick. Even though the FDA ruled a few years ago that trans fats were to be banned from all commercial foods, so far this has mostly meant commercially prepared foods in fast food or other restaurants.   Now, there are some conscientious food manufacturers who have gone the extra mile to actually remove all trans fats from their foods.  But, then, there’s those who haven’t.

Unfortunately, you the consumer have to rely on labeling and hope that the manufacturer is being truthful.  The problem is that, at the moment, foods can legally be labeled as containing NO trans fats if they’re below 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving.  That’s fine if you’re only going to have one serving.  But, if you have several servings of that “0” trans fats food, you could likely be consuming much more daily trans fats than you know or want.

A recent report from the American Heart Association in October 2014 revealed that, even though Americans are eating less trans fats, we are still eating far too much of it in our foods.  As a result, you could be setting up your currently youthful, healthy brain to age quickly and badly.

That was the finding of recent research out of the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill. Especially if you’re a post menopausal woman.

In their study, those researchers found that older women – ages 50 to 79 – are 39% more prone to suffer memory loss and stroke from consuming trans fats.  And, in those women who didn’t take any form of aspirin, the risk jumped to 66%.

This got the researchers thinking…was the aspirin protecting these women from the bad brain effects of eating trans fats?

The answer proved to be an overwhelming, resounding Yes.  In the women in this age group who both ate trans fats and took aspirin regularly, they found no incidence of stroke.  The key, they proposed, to managing trans fats, until they’re banned completely, was to:

a.  Lower intake of trans fats-containing foods and…
b.  Add a daily low dose aspirin for further stroke and memory loss precaution.

Even more telling, the researchers did not see these results when testing with other fats such as saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated fats.  The study didn’t reveal why older post menopausal women were at higher risk.  But, in general, a woman’s risk for both heart attack, stroke and memory loss, are higher in post menopausal years.

Banning Trans Fats

Trans fats started being added to foods back in the 1950s as a way to extend their shelf life.  They’re mostly contained in cake mixes, commercially prepared foods (like cakes, doughnuts, pies, cookies) and even some cereals, just to name a few.  But there are hundreds of foods that contain trans fats including powdered coffee creamers, likely you’re favorite pizza, and many packaged frozen foods.  You can still enjoy these same foods just be sure they don’t contain hydrogenated oils.

As mentioned earlier, the labels on these packaged foods can be deceiving.  Seeing a “0” in the trans fats category offers a false sense of security on many packaged foods.  The real story is found in the ingredients.  The words partially hydrogenated soybean oil (most common), or just hydrogenated oils, indicate trans fats and should be avoided.

The best way to stay away from trans fats is to avoid packaged foods altogether, but sometimes this just isn’t possible.  And not all packaged foods contain trans fats which makes reading the label so important.

The next best thing you can do is to be sure to get enough Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet to help counteract the negative effects of trans fats.  These are abundant in oily-type fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring.  You can also take them as a supplement in either Krill Oil or Fish Oil.  Take at least 1,000 mg a day.

Taking a low dose aspirin, as the UNC researchers found, can also be helpful.  So can Vitamin E, and natural “aspirin”, the herb white willow bark, which commercial aspirin is derived from.  These are blood “thinners” and help break up blood clots that trans fats and saturated animal fats can create.

Trans fats also adversely affect men’s health so it’s a good idea for men to also ban them.  The American Heart Association study also found that men actually consume more trans fats daily, about 1.9 grams, than women do at 1.7.   So, ladies look out for the man in your life, whether it’s your spouse, significant other, sibling, etc.  Omit, or limit, trans fats in both your diets for better heart and brain health.

Stay Well,
Ron Blankstein, M.D.


Call For Truth in Trans Fats Labeling by US FDA,

Aspirin May Counteract Potential Trans Fats-Related Stroke Risk



Ronald Blankstein, M.D.

Ron Blankstein, MD, FACC, FASNC, FSCCT, FASPC is the Director of Cardiac Computed Tomography, Associate Director of the Cardiovascular Imaging Program, Co-Director of the Cardiovascular Imaging Training Program, and a Preventive Cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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