Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Is Elaidic Acid Bad For You?

Also Known As: trans-9-Octadecenoic acid



Short answer

Elaidic acid, a trans fat found in hydrogenated oils, poses serious health risks, including increased chances of heart disease and detrimental impacts on cholesterol levels. While actions to eliminate it are underway, consumers still need to check food labels to avoid this unhealthy fat.



Long answer

Elaidic Acid: Understanding Trans Fats and Their Sources

Elaidic acid is predominantly infamous for being a trans fatty acid, a form of unsaturated fat that has been continuously scrutinized by nutritional experts and health-conscious consumers alike. Unlike naturally occurring cis fats, where hydrogen atoms are positioned on the same side of the double bond, trans fats have their hydrogen atoms on opposite sides. This slight difference in structure leads to significant implications for our health. Originally produced industrially through the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils, a process designed to solidify oils and extend shelf life, trans fats like elaidic acid are now renowned for their detrimental effects on human health.

The primary dietary source of elaidic acid is partially hydrogenated oils, commonly found lurking in processed foods. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Margarine and vegetable shortenings
  • Pre-packaged snacks (e.g., cookies, crackers, chips)
  • Fried foods (e.g., french fries, fried chicken)
  • Baked goods (e.g., pastries, doughnuts, cakes)
  • Frozen pizzas and other microwaveable meals
  • Non-dairy creamers and whipped toppings

It's essential to distinguish that not all trans fats are synthetically created. Naturally occurring trans fats, found in the meat and dairy from ruminant animals such as cows and sheep, are present in our diet in small quantities. However, the primary concern lies with the artificial trans fats, like elaidic acid, which are far more prevalent in the typical Western diet and carry significant health risks.

Studies have firmly established a link between the intake of industrial trans fats and increased risk of coronary heart disease. Research, including one published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that for every 2% increase in calories from trans fat consumption, the risk of coronary heart disease is increased by 23%. This is due to factors such as an increase in levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and a decrease in ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, as well as promoting inflammation, endothelial dysfunction, and increased adiposity.

Given the wealth of scientific evidence illustrating the negative health impacts, many health organizations and governments have taken action to reduce the presence of elaidic acid and other trans fats in food. This includes the FDA's determination that partially hydrogenated oils are not "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS) for human consumption and the global initiative by the World Health Organization (WHO) to eliminate industrially-produced trans fats from the global food supply by 2023.

While legislative actions aim to curb the availability of trans fats, it is still wise for individuals to closely scrutinize ingredient lists for partially hydrogenated oils to minimize their elaidic acid intake. Awareness and personal diligence can be powerful tools in the pursuit of a trans fat-free diet, contributing significantly to better cardiovascular health and overall well-being.

Health Implications of Elaidic Acid on Cardiovascular System

Elaidic acid, a trans fatty acid predominantly found in partially hydrogenated oils, has been a subject of substantial research concerning its impact on cardiovascular health. Unlike cis fatty acids, which occur naturally and can have beneficial effects on the body, trans fats such as elaidic acid have a different chemical structure that can lead to adverse health outcomes.

Multiple studies have linked the consumption of trans fats to increased risk of coronary heart disease. One pivotal study published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that a higher intake of trans fats, specifically elaidic acid, is associated with an elevated risk of myocardial infarction and death from coronary heart disease. 1

How does elaidic acid exert its deleterious effects on the cardiovascular system? The evidence points to several mechanisms:

  • Lipid profile alteration: Elaidic acid consumption is known to increase LDL cholesterol (often termed "bad" cholesterol) levels while simultaneously decreasing HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol). This unfavorable shift contributes to the atherosclerotic process. 2
  • Promotion of inflammation: Trans fatty acids can activate inflammatory pathways, which is a critical factor in the development of atherosclerosis, thereby increasing cardiovascular risk. Inflammatory biomarkers such as C-reactive protein (CRP) have been found to be higher in individuals with a diet high in trans fats. 3
  • Endothelial dysfunction: The endothelium is the inner lining of blood vessels, and its proper function is crucial for cardiovascular health. Elaidic acid has been implicated in harming endothelial function, which can impair blood flow and increase the risk of clot formations. 4
  • Insulin resistance: There is also evidence that trans fats, including elaidic acid, might contribute to insulin resistance, a condition known to be a precursor to type 2 diabetes, a well-established risk factor for cardiovascular disease. 5

Reviewing the extensive research, authoritative health organizations such as the World Health Organization have recommended that trans fatty acid intake, including elaidic acid, be limited to less than 1% of total energy intake to mitigate cardiovascular risk. 6 This advice is echoed by the American Heart Association, which advises the public to reduce trans fat consumption as much as possible. 7

It’s essential for consumers to be aware that although trans fats have been banned in several countries and regions, products containing elaidic acid may still be available in various parts of the world, often hiding in plain sight on ingredient labels of processed foods.

Understanding the detrimental impact that elaidic acid can have on the cardiovascular system highlights the importance of vigilant dietary choices. By opting for foods lower in trans fats and higher in unsaturated fats, individuals can take proactive steps towards maintaining cardiovascular health and mitigating disease risk.

Effect of Elaidic Acid Cardiovascular Outcome
Increase in LDL cholesterol Potential for atherosclerotic plaque development
Decrease in HDL cholesterol Reduced removal of cholesterol from the bloodstream
Promotion of inflammation Progression of atherosclerosis
Impairment of endothelial function Reduced vascular reactivity and potential clot formation
Contribution to insulin resistance Increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease


  1. Mozaffarian, D., Katan, M. B., Ascherio, A., Stampfer, M. J., & Willett, W. C. (2006). Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. New England Journal of Medicine, 354(15), 1601-1613.
  2. Lopez-Garcia, E., Schulze, M. B., Meigs, J. B., Manson, J. E., Rifai, N., Stampfer, M. J., ... & Hu, F. B. (2005). Consumption of trans fatty acids is related to plasma biomarkers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. Journal of Nutrition, 135(3), 562-566.
  3. Siri-Tarino, P. W., Sun, Q., Hu, F. B., & Krauss, R. M. (2010). Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(3), 502-509.
  4. Willett, W. C., & Ascherio, A. (1994). Trans fatty acids: are the effects only marginal? The American Journal of Public Health, 84(5), 722-724.
  5. Stender, S., Dyerberg, J., & Bysted, A. (2006). High levels of industrially produced trans fat in popular fast foods. New England Journal of Medicine, 354(15), 1650-1652.
  6. World Health Organization. (2018). REPLACE trans fat: An action package to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids. World Health Organization.
  7. American Heart Association. (2017). Trans fats.

Elaidic Acid's Role in Inflammation and Metabolic Disorders

When it comes to the relationship between elaidic acid and inflammation, as well as metabolic disorders, it's essential to peel back the layers of scientific research to understand the full scope. Elaidic acid, as a trans fatty acid primarily found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, manifests in the human diet through consumption of processed foods, such as margarine, packaged snacks, and fast food. The metabolism of these fats in the human body leads us down a complex biochemical path with potential adverse effects on health.

Firstly, numerous studies have shed light on the pro-inflammatory properties of trans fatty acids like elaidic acid. Inflammation, an immune system response critical for healing, can become chronic under persistent dietary and lifestyle insults. This chronic state is linked to several diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The biochemistry is clear: trans fats have been shown to influence the balance of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory eicosanoids, molecules that play a central role in the inflammation process. By tipping this balance, elaidic acid can potentially exacerbate the inflammatory response in the body.

Metabolic disorders, including metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance, have also been associated with the consumption of trans fats like elaidic acid. A high trans fat diet can lead to an adverse impact on lipid profiles, raising LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or "bad" cholesterol and lowering HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or "good" cholesterol levels. This dyslipidemia is a key risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, studies have suggested a link between trans fats and increased insulin resistance, a condition where cells in the body don't respond as well to the hormone insulin, leading to higher blood sugar levels and increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

One particularly significant study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition illuminated that elaidic acid can impair the endothelial function of arteries, fostering a conducive environment for atherogenesis, the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. Such arterial damage is a precursor to various cardiovascular diseases, illustrating the gravity of the potential impacts of elaidic acid on heart health.

Moreover, the role of elaidic acid in inflammation and metabolic disorders is not merely a matter of individual nutrient action but also a reflection of dietary patterns. It underscores the broader issue of consuming foods rich in trans fats being reflective of a diet high in processed foods and low in nutrients necessary for optimal health. The inflammatory state promoted by such a diet can contribute longitudinally to the development of complex diseases, where inflammation serves as a common thread linking various metabolic disorders.

In summary, through well-documented research, elaidic acid has been implicated as a contributor to inflammation and the development of metabolic disorders. Its presence in processed and fast foods should be a red flag for consumers aiming to maintain a healthy inflammatory response and metabolic function. Understanding the molecular mechanisms behind elaidic acid’s impact helps delineate why choosing a diet low in trans fats and advocated by health institutions worldwide is critical for long-term health and disease prevention.

Comparing Elaidic Acid to Other Fatty Acids in Diet

Elaidic acid, a trans fatty acid, is often contrasted with its dietary fat counterparts due to its unique chemical structure and the impact it has on human health. The key differentiator between elaidic acid and other fatty acids is its configuration; elaidic acid has trans double bonds, which can be detrimental to health.

When comparing elaidic acid to unsaturated fatty acids, such as oleic acid (a cis-monounsaturated fatty acid), research suggests a stark contrast in their effects on cardiovascular health. A publication in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition articulated how trans fats raise LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels and lower HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels, both changes which may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

In comparison to saturated fats, previously demonized for their cholesterol-raising effects, trans fats like elaidic acid have shown more pronounced negative impacts on heart health. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that trans fatty acids not only elevate levels of LDL cholesterol but also promote inflammation, endothelial dysfunction, and adiposity, which saturated fats do not seem to do at equivalent rates or magnitudes.

The comparison with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) further elucidates the dangers of trans fats such as elaidic acid. Studies point to PUFAs being protective against heart disease, an effect that is directly opposite to that of trans fatty acids. For instance, omega-3 fatty acids, a type of PUFA, have been celebrated for their anti-inflammatory properties and their role in promoting heart health.

While naturally occurring trans fats exist in small quantities in dairy and meat from ruminant animals, industrial trans fats created through hydrogenation, as is the case with elaidic acid, pose a much higher health risk. The World Health Organization recommends limiting trans fat intake as much as possible, indicating a strong consensus on its negative health implications as compared to other dietary fats.

An important note is the dose-dependent relationship between trans fat consumption and health risks. Even small amounts of trans fats, including elaidic acid, can have significant health consequences. Public health guidelines, like those from the American Heart Association, suggest limiting trans fat intake to less than 1% of total daily calories, further reinforcing the caution to prefer other types of dietary fats over elaidic acid and similar trans fats.

To summarize, comparing elaidic acid to other fatty acids brings to light the following distinctions:

  • Raised LDL cholesterol levels: Unlike monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, elaidic acid increases unhealthy LDL cholesterol.
  • Reduced HDL cholesterol levels: It lowers beneficial HDL cholesterol, a protective factor against heart disease.
  • Promotion of inflammation: Elaidic acid is associated with increased inflammation, whereas polyunsaturated fats like omega-3s reduce inflammation.
  • Links to heart disease: There is substantial evidence correlating trans fats like elaidic acid with a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, unlike unsaturated fats, which are heart-health promoting.
  • WHO recommendations: Global health organizations advise severely restricting intake of trans fats due to their health consequences.

It's clear that elaidic acid is distinct from its fatty acid cousins not only in structure but, unfortunately, in its far-reaching negative health implications.

Regulatory Stance and Industry Use of Elaidic Acid

Elaidic acid, a trans fatty acid largely produced by the industrial partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils, stands at a regulatory and health crossroads. Different agencies have taken stances on trans fats, which inclusively affect elaidic acid. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken meaningful steps towards eliminating partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of trans fats including elaidic acid, by revoking their Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status. This move signals a federal acknowledgment of the health risks associated with trans fat consumption. As of June 18, 2018, food manufacturers are no longer allowed to add partially hydrogenated oils to food without special permission.

In contrast, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has established a slightly more tolerant view, though it has recognized the need for reduction. The EFSA has not banned trans fats outright but recommends keeping the intake of trans fats as low as possible within the context of a nutritionally adequate diet.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a global elimination of trans fats, elaidic acid included, by 2023 through its REPLACE package. This action plan encourages countries to enact legislative or regulatory actions to remove these fats from the food supply.

In terms of industry use, elaidic acid's historical inclusion in processed foods owes to its ability to enhance flavor and texture while extending shelf life. Commonly found in margarines, baked goods, and fried foods, the industry has been reformulating products in light of growing health concerns and regulatory changes. Major food companies have started phasing out trans fats and, consequently, elaidic acid, opting for healthier alternatives like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

The fast-food industry, particularly in the United States, has been influenced by both regulations and consumer demand to reduce trans fat content in their offerings. Many have switched to trans fat-free cooking oils, effectively reducing elaidic acid presence in their foods.

Despite industry efforts to reformulate products, there remains a challenge in developing countries where regulations may be less stringent or enforcement is weak. In such regions, trans fats and elaidic acid continue to be used, posing health risks to the population. Public health advocacy and international cooperation are critical in achieving a global reduction in trans fats, including elaidic acid, to safeguard global health.

Given the regulatory shifts and ongoing industrial change, consumers should remain vigilant about reading labels and choosing products with healthier fat profiles, as elaidic acid's presence in the global food supply is still a relevant concern.

Frequently asked questions

There are no known health benefits to consuming elaidic acid or other industrial trans fats. On the contrary, these fats are linked to numerous negative health effects, including increased risk of coronary heart disease, inflammation, and endothelial dysfunction.

No, there is no safe level of consumption for industrial trans fats such as elaidic acid. The World Health Organization and other health authorities recommend minimizing intake as much as possible due to the link between these fats and increased risk of heart disease and other health issues.

Despite regulatory efforts to ban trans fats, they may still be present in imported or noncompliant products, particularly in countries with less stringent enforcement. Reading ingredient labels helps consumers to identify and avoid these fats, including elaidic acid, ensuring a healthier diet.

Unlike artificially produced elaidic acid, naturally occurring trans fats found in dairy or meat products are not considered as harmful. These fats, present in small amounts in the diet of those consuming products from ruminant animals, have not been shown to have the same negative impact on heart health as industrially-produced trans fats.

Ask a question about Elaidic Acid and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • increase in 'bad' ldl cholesterol
  • decrease in 'good' hdl cholesterol
  • promotion of inflammation
  • endothelial dysfunction
  • insulin resistance

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased risk of coronary heart disease
  • atherosclerotic plaque development
  • progression of atherosclerosis
  • increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease

Commonly found in

  • margarine
  • vegetable shortenings
  • pre-packaged snacks
  • fried foods
  • baked goods
  • frozen pizzas
  • microwaveable meals
  • non-dairy creamers
  • whipped toppings

Ingredients to be aware of

Healthier alternatives

  • unsaturated fats like oleic acid (a cis-monounsaturated fatty acid)
  • polyunsaturated fats (omega-3s)

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 02-29-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 02-29-2024

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