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14-03-2012 | Psychology | Article

Trans fat consumption linked with increased aggression


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MedWire News: A high consumption of dietary trans fats is linked to increased irritability and aggression in humans, show study findings.

"We found that greater [consumption of] trans fatty acids [FA] were significantly associated with greater aggression, and were more consistently predictive of aggression and irritability, across the measures tested, than the other known aggression predictors that were assessed," said lead study author Beatrice Golomb (University of California San Diego, USA) in a press statement.

"If the association between trans fats and aggressive behavior proves to be causal, this adds further rationale to recommendations to avoid eating trans fats, or including them in foods provided at institutions like schools and prisons, since the detrimental effects of trans fats may extend beyond the person who consumes them to affect others."

Writing in PLoS ONE, Golomb and team analyzed dietary data collected from 945 men and women aged 57.2 years on average via a food frequency questionnaire and assessed links between estimated dietary trans fat consumption and aggression and irritability.

To measure the behavioral outcomes, the researchers used the Overt Aggression Scale Modified - Aggression subscale (OASMa), Life History of Aggression (LHA), and the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS). The participants were also asked to self-report levels of impatience and irritability on a scale of 0-10.

Following adjustment for gender, age, education, alcohol intake, and smoking status, the researchers found that a higher intake of dietary trans fat was significantly positively correlated with greater aggression, impatience, and irritability according to all five scales tested.

Regarding possible explanations for this association, Golomb and co-workers explain that "dietary trans FA variably obstruct production of docosahexaenoic acid, a long chain n3 FA that has protected against aggression-related outcomes in some observational and experimental studies."

They add that other "mechanisms that could have implications for aggression include cell energy alterations, oxidative stress and inflammatory effects. n3 FA have also been linked to lower depression risk, and analogous reasoning might yield the hypothesis that trans fats may adversely affect depression."

The researchers concede that confounding could have influenced the results due to the observational nature of the study. However, they say "factors including strength and consistency of association, biological gradient, temporality, and biological plausibility add weight to the prospect of a causal connection."

They suggest that these findings add to previous research demonstrating the adverse health effects of trans FA consumption and "may have relevance to public policy determinations regarding dietary trans fats."

By Helen Albert

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