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Dr. Hana Tepper, St. Luke's Hospital

Study finds increased stroke risk in women with high consumption of trans fats

We have all heard about trans fats. They make many of the guilty pleasure foods we eat taste so good. The not-so-good part of trans fats are the dangers that may manifest later in life, including stroke.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), approximately 795,000 people experience a stroke every year, and 137,000 people die from them. Women account for almost 60 percent of those stroke-related deaths.

A new study in the Annals of Neurology found that for post-menopausal women, the danger of having a stroke may have something to do with their choice of foods. After studying more than 87,000 women ages 50 to 79 for eight years and adjusting for other risks such as weight and tobacco use, researchers found those women with a high intake of trans fats - from foods such as meat, dairy products, snack foods, frozen dinners and margarine - had a 66 percent higher risk for ischemic stroke compared to those who didn't consume high amounts of trans fats. Ischemic strokes occur when an artery to the brain becomes blocked, which can cause the cells in the brain to die.

The study also found that women who took aspirin lowered their risk for stroke, perhaps because this helped prevent clotting, plaque formation and inflammation.

Trans fats are responsible for raising LDL or "bad" cholesterol and lowering HDL or "good" cholesterol. The FDA has taken note and has required food manufacturers to clearly list trans fats on food labels. Many food labels now proclaim that they contain "0 Trans Fats," but consumers should be cautious. Foods labeled "0 Trans Fats" can still have as much as .5 grams of trans fats per serving, which can add up throughout the course of the day. The AHA recommends people limit their consumption of trans fats to less than one percent of their daily calorie intake.

Instead of reformulated snack foods that can contain trans fats, women should focus on healthy foods known for high nutrition value. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fat-free dairy products, beans, nuts and fatty fish. In addition, women should also try to exercise for 30 minutes a day.

Dr. Hana Tepper is an internal medicine doctor at St. Luke's Hospital.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 17, 2012.

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