Trans fatty acids, known to increase the risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes, have now been linked to an increased risk for dementia.
Researchers measured blood levels of elaidic acid, the most common trans fats, in 1,628 men and women 60 and older and free of dementia. Over the following 10 years, 377 developed some type of dementia.
Trans fats, which are added to processed food in the form of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, increase levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. Meat and dairy products naturally contain small amounts of trans fats, but whether these fats raise bad cholesterol is unknown.
After controlling for other factors, the scientists found that compared with those in the lowest one-quarter in blood levels of elaidic acid, those in the highest were 50 percent more likely to develop any form of dementia and 39 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease in particular. Elaidic acid levels were not associated with vascular dementia considered alone. The study is in Neurology.
The senior author, Dr. Toshiharu Ninomiya, a professor of public health at Kyushu University in Japan, said the study is observational so cannot prove cause and effect. “It is difficult to avoid trans fats completely, and the risk of a small amount of trans fats is unclear,” he said. “But it would be better to try to avoid them as much as possible.”