Although Kummerow began publishing on trans fats in 1957, his efforts against trans fats in food began in earnest in 1968, when he urged the American Heart Association to ask the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils to have its members decrease the amount of trans fatty acids in shortenings and margarines, replacing them with essential fatty acids.
"Even then, there was strong evidence that trans fatty acids increased plasma cholesterol levels," Kummerow said.
The food oil industry reluctantly agreed to lower the trans fatty acid content and increase essential fatty acids in its products. That change coincided with a dramatic decline in coronary heart disease mortality after 1968. Kummerow believes the decline in the dietary intake of trans fats and the increase in linoleic acid could explain at least part of the reduction in mortality due to heart disease.
To reinforce his message, Kummerow keeps in his lab a sample of human arteries that are clogged with atherosclerotic plaque. Another unfortunate characteristic of trans fats is that they cause cells to increase calcium in the blood, which builds up in and narrows the arteries, the main symptom of atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis makes the arteries "look like old scrub boards," Kummerow said. "They look corrugated. This corrugation builds up to the point where it will stop blood flow."
Kummerow's petition was filed Aug. 7, 2009. The FDA has 180 days to respond.
"According to American Heart Association data, nearly 2,400 Americans die of heart disease each day," Kummerow said. "This statistic shows the importance of a quick response."
|Contact: Diana Yates|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign