Food and Behaviour Research

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13 March 2012 - UC San Diego Health Sciences - More Trans Fat Consumption Linked to Greater Aggression

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

Plenty of evidence already shows that Trans Fats (artificially twisted, toxic versions of natural polyunsaturated fatty acids) are damaging to physical health, raising the risks of cardiovascular disease, inflammatory disorders, obesity, diabetes and other degenerative diseases.

The brain is particularly rich in polyunsaturated fats, so the likelihood is that trans fats are even more damaging to mental health and performance.  Human studies have already found links between trans fat intakes and both depression (Sánchez-Villegas et al 2011) and Alzheimer's disease (Morris et al 2003); and in animals, dietary trans fats have been shown to increase manic and aggressive behaviour, and damage to brain cells, following amphetamine use (See Trevizol et al 2011).

This latest study is the first to show clear associations between aggressive behaviour and trans fat intake in humans. As the authors make clear, this kind of study cannot provide proof of causality, but as they also emphasise - ethical considerations make it virtually impossible to conduct human studies that could do this.

The existing evidence shows that trans fats have many health risks and absolutely no nutritional benefits, and this study adds yet more weight to the recommendation made by the UK government's medical advisory committee in 2010 for a ban on trans fats - which to date the government has steadfastly ignored.  Given the huge costs to society of aggressive and antisocial behaviour, might these findings finally provide the wake-up call needed to remove these toxins from our food supply? 

See Golomb et al 2012 - Trans Fat Consumption and Aggression

For further information on the problems caused by trans fats - and why 'voluntary action' by the food industry is failing to protect the public (and particularly many of the most vulnerable members of our society), see also

Might the “Twinkie defense” have a scientific foundation after all? Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have shown – by each of a range of measures, in men and women of all ages, in Caucasians and minorities – that consumption of dietary trans fatty acids (dTFAs) is associated with irritability and aggression. 

The study of nearly 1,000 men and women provides the first evidence linking dTFAs with adverse behaviors that impacted others, ranging from impatience to overt aggression. The research, led by Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, associate professor in the UC San Diego Department of Medicine, has been published online by PLoS ONE. 

Dietary trans fatty acids are primarily products of hydrogenation, which makes unsaturated oils solid at room temperature. They are present at high levels in margarines, shortenings and prepared foods. Adverse health effects of dTFAs have been identified in lipid levels, metabolic function, insulin resistance, oxidation, inflammation, and cardiac health. 

The UC San Diego team used baseline dietary information and behavioral assessments of 945 adult men and women to analyze the relationship between dTFAs and aggression or irritability. The survey measured such factors as a life history of aggression, conflict tactics and self-rated impatience and irritability, as well as an “overt aggression” scale that tallies recent aggressive behaviors. Analyses were adjusted for sex, age, education, and use of alcohol or tobacco products. 

“We found that greater trans fatty acids were significantly associated with greater aggression, and were more consistently predictive of aggression and irritability, across the measures tested, than the other known aggression predictors that were assessed,” said Golomb. “If the association between trans fats and aggressive behavior proves to be causal, this adds further rationale to recommendations to avoid eating trans fats, or including them in foods provided at institutions like schools and prisons, since the detrimental effects of trans fats may extend beyond the person who consumes them to affect others.”