The World's Healthiest Foods

Children’s Allergies Increased by Trans Fats

Children’s allergies are increasing worldwide, yet the reasons behind this upswing are unclear. In a recently published study, a team of researches in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Oulu in Finland suggest that changes in diet, specifically the increased consumption of hydrogenated or trans fats, may play a role in the increased incidence of allergies.

The researchers evaluated a population-based sample of 231 sex- and age-matched pairs in 1980 and 154 pairs in 1986. They compared the children’s dietary data, the types of fatty acids found in their blood, and correlated this information with the occurrence of allergies. During the following nine years of follow up, the same variables were also compared between those children who developed allergies later and those who did not.

The data showed that those children who developed allergies consumed more margarine and less butter compared to those who remained healthy. When the researchers checked the children’s blood samples, they found differences in the types of fatty acids in their blood that supported these dietary findings.

Other studies have suggested that certain types of fatty acids may play a role in the onset of allergies. Polyunsaturated fats, and particularly trans fats like those in margarine are thought to promote the formation of prostaglandin E2, a hormone like substance that promotes inflammation and causes the immune system to release reagin, a type of IgE immunoglobulin that triggers allergic reactions.

This study provides yet another reason to avoid trans fats and choose instead fats found among the World’s Healthiest Foods such as olive oil, flaxseed oil or butter made from organic cow's milk.

In a recent interview, Mary G. Enig, Ph.D., a nutritionist widely known for her research on the nutritional aspects of fats and oils, explained “ trans fatty acids cause alterations to numerous physiological functions of biological membranes that are known to be critical for cell homeostasis, e.g., appropriate membrane transport and membrane fluidity, and these fatty acid isomers produce alterations in adipose cell size, cell number, lipid class and fatty acid composition.”

As a result of these adverse actions, Dr. Enig notes that during the past three years, a number of major research reports have shown that:

  • Trans fatty acids lower the "good" HDL cholesterol in a dose response manner (the higher the trans fat level in the diet, the lower the HDL level in the blood) and raise the lipoprotein(a), a significant risk factor for atherosclerosis in humans, in addition to raising the "bad" LDL cholesterol and total blood cholesterol levels by 20-30 milligram-percent.
  • Among more than 85,000 women evaluated by researchers at Harvard University in a long-term prospective study, those individuals who developed heart disease had a significantly higher intake of trans fatty acids.
  • Trans fatty acids induce adverse alterations in the activities of the important enzyme system in the liver that detoxifies chemical carcinogens and drugs (medications), i.e., the mixed-function oxidase cytochromes P-448/450, and several research groups around the world have reported a higher intake of partially hydrogenated fats in those individuals who have developed cancer.
  • Trans fatty acids decrease the response of the red blood cell to insulin, thus having a potentially undesirable effect in diabetics.
  • Trans fatty acids may cause immune dysfunction by lowering the efficiency of B cell response and increasing proliferation of T cells.
  • Trans fatty acids interfere with reproductive attributes and lower the amount of cream (volume) in milk from lactating females in all species studied including humans, thus lowering the overall quality available to the infant.

While the possibility of preventing allergic diseases by changing the fatty acid composition of the diet of young children remains to be tested by clinical trials, parents might wish to protect their children’s and their own health by avoiding margarine and processed foods made with hydrogenated or trans fats. Fortunately, not only do the World’s Healthiest Foods provide a variety of delicious, healthful alternatives including flaxseed and olive oil, but also Food Prep Videos such as George Mateljan’s Healthy Sauté, which demonstrate cooking techniques that maximize nutrient-values while eliminating the need to cook with fat.

References: Dunder T, Kuikka L, Turtinen J, Rasanen L, Uhari M. Diet, serum fatty acids, and atopic diseases in childhood, Allergy 2001;56:425-428. Dr. Mary Enig, Health Risks from Processed Foods and The Dangers of Trans Fats, Issue 157, June 10, 2000,

This page was updated on: 2002-06-13 21:46:54
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation