SEATTLE, WASHINGTON. Almost two thirds of deaths from heart disease are sudden and almost half of all heart disease deaths occur before the patient reaches the hospital. What is perhaps even more disturbing is that 50 per cent of people dying suddenly from cardiac arrest never knew they had a heart problem. It is clear that finding the cause(s) of sudden cardiac death is a high priority. Researchers at the University of Washington now report that high levels of trans-fatty acids are strongly associated with an increased risk of sudden cardiac death.
Their study involved 179 sudden death victims between the ages of 25 and 74 years and 285 age- and sex-
matched controls. Both cases and controls had blood samples drawn and analyzed for fatty acid levels in
red blood cell membranes. The researchers found that cardiac arrest victims tended to have significantly
higher overall levels of trans-fatty acids than did the controls. Specifically, they had higher levels of 18:1
(oleic) and 18:2 (linoleic) trans-fatty acids and significantly lower levels of beneficial long chain omega-3 fatty
acids (EPA and DHA). After adjusting for EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
and other factors which could affect heart disease risk they concluded that people with a high 18:2 (linoleic)
trans-fatty acid level had a three times higher risk of sudden cardiac death than did people with lower levels.
High levels of 18:1 (oleic) trans-fatty acids were not associated with increased risk. Linoleic trans-fatty acids
are formed when vegetable oils are partially hydrogenated or used for frying and are also found in beef and
chicken. Commercially prepared pizza and cookies are other potent sources of 18:2 acids.