The Link Between Trans Fats and Aggression

November 7th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Are our dietary choices increasing our aggression? A new study says yes.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Trans fats, or hydrogenated oils, have made news in recent years via studies linking them to heart disease and cancer, and now it seems there’s a new reason not to eat greasy foods. As detailed in Scientific American, a recent study at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine found that greater trans-fatty-acid intake was associated with increased aggression in people, regardless of age, ethnicity or gender.

Beatrice Golomb, a physician and associate professor of medicine at UCSD, wondered if trans fats might affect behavior after noting how they interact with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA – a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid), which has a calming, antidepressant effect. Trans fats disrupt the chemical process that leads to the conversion of fatty acids into DHA. Her study was first published in PLOS ONE, the peer-reviewed journal for the scientific community. It involved 1,018 men and women older than 20 who filled out a food questionnaire and other surveys that measure impatience, irritability and aggression. “Trans-fatty acids were a more consistent predictor of aggression than some traditional risk factors such as age, male sex, education and smoking,” she asserts.

Of course, it’s also possible that naturally aggressive people tend to eat less healthy food. Or that other ingredients in processed foods (such as sugars – blamed for inflammation) are the culprit. As Golomb writes, “We like to think we’re in charge of or behaviors, but in fact there are many factors that influence us, food being one of them.”

So – as UCSD’s public affairs office posited – could the “Twinkie defense” have a scientific foundation after all? Perhaps. But if this new research is indicative of an inherent link between trans fats and aggression, what’s the next step? Should the government intervene and further ban trans fats, or is up to individual consumers to decide to curtail their consumption of them? Weigh in here.