Thursday, June 02, 2005

Trans fats and autism: a follow-up

Regarding my March post on this topic . . .

A current article in NewScientist directly addresses this suspected link, the first time I’ve seen the connection made in print:

“…[trans-fatty acids] not only pile on the pounds, but are implicated in a slew of serious mental disorders, from dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to autism. Hard evidence is still thin… It seems that some of the damage may be mediated through triglyceride…found at high levels in rodents fed on trans-fats… Brains are about 60 percent fat…” (1)

Trans fats should be entirely eliminated from the food supply but until that happens, everyone, but most especially, young children and pregnant women, would be well-advised to actively avoid all foods containing trans fats, especially since there are plenty of alternatives available. Zero tolerance for this food-adulterating ingredient would seem to be the only rational way to respond to the developing scientific evidence regarding its toxicity: the stakes are simply too high to behave otherwise.

(1) “11 steps to a better brain - Food for thought (second section of article series)” in NewScientist, 28 May 2005.

PS: Interestingly, this article comes on the heels of my recent letter to the editor of NewScientist, with the two crossing in the mails. I am reassured that the connection has at last been made, because perhaps serious efforts will now be made to prevent its consumption by developing brains.

======my letter to editor of NewScientist======

Sent: Sunday, May 22, 2005 12:48 PM
Subject: Autism - Lots of Clues But Still No Answers (14 May, p. 14)


I continue to be surprised that in articles about autism (14 May, p. 14-15), no mention is made of a possible link between autism and the consumption of trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils). Based upon reports that brains of autistics show hippocampal damage (1, 2) and that rats fed trans fats sustained damage to the hippocampus (3), it would seem that such a suspicion deserves exploration.

The corresponding increase between the quantity of trans fats present in typical diets and the incidence of autism lends some epidemiological evidence to the possibility that autism is due at least partly to the consumption of synthetically-hydrogenated fats, and the high fat content of brains adds to the significance of what types of fats are consumed, especially during early development. If dietary trans fats do cause brain changes that contribute to autism, twin studies become far less useful for teasing out the genetic components, given the near-equal exposure of twins to dietary inputs, both in utero and in early childhood.

Trans fats also adversely alter the ratio of HDL/LDL cholesterol, earning them the moniker “metabolic poison” from Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health (4), so the question becomes: why are trans fats still so prevalent in people’s diets? Meanwhile, pregnant women and parents of young children should be warned that trans fats may cause real and lasting harm, something we cannot know until epidemiologic studies are done, which may never happen.

(1) DeLong, G.R. Autism, amnesia, hippocampus, and learning. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1992 Spring;16(1):63-70.

(2) Saitoh, O., Karns, C.M., and Courchesne, E. Development of the hippocampal formation from 2 to 42 years - MRI evidence of smaller area dentata in autism. Brain, Vol. 124, No. 7, 1317-1324, July 2001.

(3) Phillips, Helen. Fears raised over the safety of trans fats. NewScientist, 6 Nov 2004.

(4) FDA Urged to Require Restaurants to Disclose Use of Partially Hydrogenated Oils. Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Note: Parts of this letter are excerpted from my (obscure) blog posting of March 18, 2005: Trans fats: linked to autism too?

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