There’s been quite a focus this past 5-10 years on whether epigentic changes can be transferred from mother to child. Meaning, that what your mother gets exposed to in her life that changes her genes may end up messing with your genes even though you never had that exposure. Now a new animal study suggests that trans fats consumed by the mother can mess up the brain of the child.
Transfats are a remnant of the “better living through chemistry” movement after World War II. German scientists had figured out how to keep fat from spoiling by “hydrogenation”, basically forcing hydrogen atoms to bind to fat. In a world where a cupcake had a shelf life of a week, transfats allowed the Twinkie to be born with a shelf life outlasting a nuclear holocaust. The reason that transfats imparted such great durability to food was that the bacteria that would normally turn fat rancid couldn’t digest transfats. Perhaps that should have been our first clue, as it was later discovered that humans couldn’t either, leading to a realization that this junk was dangerous to our hearts. While a national ban was finally put into place, there are still places where transfats can be consumed.
Epigenetics is the science of how your genes interact with the environment. As you know, your genes are the blueprint for your body and how it works, showing it which proteins to produce and when. That blueprint can be modified by things in the environment. So getting exposed to certain chemicals can rewrite or silence certain parts of your genetic code.
The new research involved rats that were fed fish oil, soy bean oil, or tranfats. When their brain chemistry and function were monitored, those being fed fish oil had improved brains with better memory and more resistance to being driven “crazy” by a known model of “upper” induced mania. On the other hand, Trans Fat memory issues and poorer brains were found in the Trans Fats group and it was easy for the uppers to drive them to being manic. Interestingly, many behavioral changes could be linked to changes in the gene expression in the animals. More interestingly, the effects were transferred from mother to child through these gene modifications!
The upshot? Trans Fats are bad news. They can still be found in fried foods from smaller restaurant chains, pie-crusts, certain types of margarine, Crisco, cake mixes and frosting, pancakes and waffle mix, frozen fried chicken, non-dairy creamers that don’t require refrigeration, microwave pop corn, and cookies. Here’s a nice list of foods that still have trans fats. You’ll notice that the government rules in reporting Trans Fat levels were designed by industry, so they’re a bit lax!