Low levels of trans fatty acids may be beneficial if they occur naturally in foods such as dairy and meat products, a new study published in the European Heart Journal has found.

Even low levels of artificial trans fatty acids may not be as harmful as once though, researchers from Heidelberg University, Germany, reported. Not much is known regarding the highest concentration of trans fatty acids that is safe for humans and if there is a difference between industrially produced and naturally occurring trans fatty acids.

Study authors measured the concentrations of trans fatty acids found in the red blood cell membranes in patients analyzed in the Ludwigshafen Risk and Cardiovascular Health (LURIC) study (n=3,259). The patients’ blood samples were analyzed to determine the total concentrations of trans fatty acids as well as distinguishing between the artificial and naturally occurring ones. They correlated this information on death, causes of death, medical history, and other confounding factors (eg, statin therapy, smoking, lack of physical exercise, body mass index, diabetes, high blood pressure).

The study found higher concentrations of trans fatty acids in red blood cell membranes associated with higher LDL cholesterol, but also with lower body mass index, lower triglycerides, and less insulin resistance, which translates to a decreased risk of diabetes. Trans fatty acids that were naturally occurring were linked to a lower rate of death from any cause, and this was largely due to a lower risk of sudden cardiac death. Other associations between total trans fatty acids, industrially produced or naturally occurring trans fatty acids and death was mostly not statistically significant after adjusting for confounding factors, they concluded.

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Findings from this study contrast the observations from the United States. Study authors suggest it may be due to lower baseline trans fatty acids in German patients vs. those in the United States. The patients’ proportion of trans fatty acids in the blood for this study averaged just under 1% whereas a study in the United States conducted over a similar time period that reported an average of more than 2.6% of total fatty acids.

“Our data support a new approach to investigating trans fatty acids and provide evidence that naturally occurring trans fatty acids have to be differentiated from industrially produced trans fatty acids,” concluded Dr. Marcus Kleber, post-doctoral researcher at Heidelberg University.

For more information visit ESCardio.org.