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You can't buy good health but you can buy good health information. Check out these newly released Special Health Reports from Harvard Medical School:

“Natural” trans fat less harmful than artificial version

Trans fat lowers “good” HDL cholesterol and raises the “bad” LDL variety. Some municipalities have responded by banning trans fat from restaurants and many food makers have stopped using trans fat as an ingredient. But there’s some trans fat normally present in meat and dairy products that these bans won’t touch. Fortunately, this “natural” trans fat is not a big health concern, reports the July 2008 issue of the Harvard Health Letter.

Hydrogenation — the process used to convert oil into solid trans fat by adding hydrogen—occurs in nature, too. Bacteria in animals’ stomachs hydrogenate the fatty oils from animal feed, for example.

Two dairy industry–funded studies published in the March 2008 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the effects of artificial and natural trans fat. One study found that eating artificial trans fat lowered HDL in the women studied, while natural trans fat increased HDL. There was no difference in how the two different types of trans fat affected men. The other study found that large amounts (3.7% of calories) of either natural or artificial trans fat produced similarly bad effects on heart disease risk factors. Relatively small amounts (1.5% or 0.8% of calories) of natural trans fat didn’t have an effect.

The dairy industry wants the natural trans fat in its products excluded from the rules for labeling trans fat, so the results from these studies help make their case — and warrant some healthy skepticism, as do many industry-sponsored investigations. On the other hand, there are other reasons to believe that natural trans fat is less harmful than the artificial version.

Also in this issue of the Harvard Health Letter

  • Cancer screening as we age
  • Hospice care
  • Egg-cellent news for most, but not those with diabetes
  • In Brief: Smokers: The formers versus the nevers
  • In Brief: Trans fat, au naturel
  • By the way, doctor: Should I stop taking a stomach acid blocker?
  • By the way, doctor: Is it okay to switch from Avodart to finasteride for BPH?
  • References for July 2008 Harvard Health Letter

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.