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Is Vaccenic Acid Bad For You?

Also Known As: trans-11-octadecenoic acid



Short answer

Vaccenic acid, a natural trans fat found in ruminant animals' products, differs from harmful industrial trans fats. Current research suggests it may not have the same negative health impacts, and could have potential benefits including anti-inflammatory properties, improved cholesterol levels, and conversion to beneficial CLA. However, these findings are emerging and must be balanced within an overall diet. More research is needed to fully understand vaccenic acid's role in human health.



Long answer

Defining Vaccenic Acid and Its Dietary Sources

Vaccenic acid is a naturally occurring trans-fatty acid found primarily in the fat of ruminants such as cows, sheep, and goats. But before we raise the red flag about trans fats, it's pivotal to distinguish vaccenic acid (a ruminant trans fat) from industrial trans fats—artificially created during the hydrogenation of vegetable oils, which have been widely implicated in various health issues.

With a chemical structure characterized by a distinct double bond, vaccenic acid is categorized within the omega-7 fatty acid group. While trans fats have generally been villainized, which is mostly deserved for the industrial variety, it's essential to understand that the story of naturally occurring trans fats such as vaccenic acid isn't as straightforward and necessitates a nuanced consideration of its effects on health.

Let's delve into the typical dietary sources of vaccenic acid:

  • Dairy Products: Milk, cheese, butter, and other dairy products derived from cows, sheep, and goats contain notable amounts of vaccenic acid. The levels may vary depending on the diet and specific breed of the animals.
  • Meat: The meat from ruminants, including beef, lamb, and goat, is another primary source of vaccenic acid. Again, levels can differ based on feeding practices and animal husbandry.
  • Grass-fed vs Grain-fed: Ruminants that are grass-fed tend to have higher concentrations of vaccenic acid in their fat compared to those that are grain-fed.

Understanding these dietary sources is crucial to making informed decisions about vaccenic acid intake, particularly for those who consume these animal products regularly. However, it's not just about where it comes from—it's the quantity and context of intake that often draw the line between healthful and harmful effects.

To ensure that our understanding of vaccenic acid is grounded in science, let's look at some studies related to its consumption. For example, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that dairy-derived trans fatty acids like vaccenic acid may not exhibit the same adverse effects on cholesterol levels as industrial trans fats. This indicates that while we should monitor our intake of trans fats, the source and type are critical factors to consider.

More research is needed to fully understand the implications of dietary vaccenic acid on health, and whether or not it should be a cause for concern. As a naturally occurring component in animal fats, it is a major player in the ongoing discussion around the consumption of meat and dairy products and their role in a balanced diet.

Comparison of Natural Trans Fats and Artificial Trans Fats

When exploring vaccenic acid's impact on health, it's crucial to distinguish between natural trans fats and artificial trans fats. While both are structurally similar, their sources and effects on the body can differ significantly. Let's break down these differences to understand the unique characteristics of vaccenic acid, a natural trans fat.

Origin and Dietary Sources

  • Natural Trans Fats: Primarily found in meat and dairy products from ruminant animals like cows, sheep, and goats. Vaccenic acid is produced in the stomach of these animals through the biohydrogenation process by gut bacteria.
  • Artificial Trans Fats: Created through an industrial process called hydrogenation, which adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid and shelf-stable. These are commonly found in margarines, baked goods, and processed snacks.

Structural Differences

  • Natural Trans Fats: Have a slightly different chemical structure compared to artificial trans fats. This subtle variation in their double bonds' configuration may influence how the body processes and interacts with them.
  • Artificial Trans Fats: Generally contain trans isomers with a different double bond arrangement, resulting in a straighter fatty acid chain that is less common in nature.

Health Implications

  • Natural Trans Fats: Recent research suggests that natural trans fats, including vaccenic acid, may not have the same detrimental health effects associated with artificial trans fats. Some studies have shown that vaccenic acid could exhibit health benefits, such as potential anti-carcinogenic properties and positive effects on cholesterol levels when consumed in moderate amounts.
  • Artificial Trans Fats: Extensive research has shown that artificial trans fats can increase the risk of coronary heart disease by raising levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and lowering levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. In response to these findings, many countries have enacted regulations to limit or ban the use of artificially created trans fats in foods.

A comprehensive review in "Advances in Nutrition" (2018) comparing the effects of natural versus artificial trans fats concluded that not all trans fatty acids are alike in their biological effects. 1 The review emphasizes the need for more nuanced dietary recommendations that differentiate between these fats.

Moreover, it's important to acknowledge the role of the overall dietary pattern when considering the impact of naturally occurring trans fats. The consumption of moderate amounts of natural trans fats within an otherwise balanced diet might not pose significant health risks for most individuals. However, indulging in high quantities of foods rich in artificial trans fats can be quite detrimental to health, as the scientific consensus has demonstrated repeatedly.

Understanding these differences enables us to form a more measured and evidence-based perspective on trans fats, particularly vaccenic acid, and their place in our diet. As short-sighted policies and generalized health recommendations often overlook these nuances, it's vital to examine the quality of fats we consume alongside their origin.

In conclusion, while all trans fats share certain chemical characteristics, their biological effects can vary depending on their origin – natural or artificial – and structural differences. Vaccenic acid, as a natural trans fat, falls into a distinct category and may not fit the harmful profile often attributed to its artificial counterparts.

1. Guy H. Johnson et al. "The Public Health Implications of Consumption of Trans Fatty Acids from Ruminant Sources: A Review." Advances in Nutrition, Volume 9, Issue 3, May 2018, Pages 262–271, doi:10.1093/advances/nmy004.

Vaccenic Acid's Role in Inflammation and Cardiovascular Health

When it comes to the impacts of vaccenic acid on inflammation and cardiovascular health, the waters are murky, and opinions in the scientific community can differ significantly. As a trans fatty acid predominantly found in the fat of ruminant animals and dairy products, vaccenic acid incites a complex interplay within our bodily systems that merits a closer look.

The primary concern with vaccenic acid, similar to that of other trans fats, lies in its potential to contribute to cardiovascular disease. Trans fats are known culprits for increasing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels – often dubbed 'bad cholesterol' – which can contribute to an increased risk of atherosclerosis, an underlying cause of heart disease and stroke.

However, vaccenic acid challenges this simplistic view. Emerging research suggests that as an isolated nutrient, vaccenic acid's role in cardiovascular health might not be as detrimental as once thought. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlighted vaccenic acid's ability to be converted into conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a compound posited to have various health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties and potential protective effects against heart disease.

Another aspect to consider is inflammation, a bodily response tied closely to chronic diseases, including heart conditions. Typically, trans fats are pro-inflammatory, exacerbating conditions such as atherosclerosis. Yet, some studies indicate that vaccenic acid may not prompt the same inflammatory response as its artificial trans fat counterparts. A paper from the British Journal of Nutrition indicates that vaccenic acid may have a neutral or even slightly anti-inflammatory effect on the body.

Despite these nuanced findings, broad generalizations about vaccenic acid's safety and impact on cardiovascular health and inflammation are premature. The current body of literature is not vast enough to draw definitive conclusions, thus necessitating further research involving large-scale clinical trials to better delineate these associations. Below is a summation of the varied outcomes linked to vaccenic acid:

Effect Description References
Cholesterol Influence May raise LDL cholesterol, but also potentially increases 'good' HDL cholesterol or has a neutral impact. Journal of Nutrition, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Inflammation Potential Potential anti-inflammatory effects or neutral compared to other trans fats. British Journal of Nutrition
Cardiovascular Impact Possible conversion to CLA, which could offer protective effects against heart disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

It's important for individuals to weigh the existing evidence and consult healthcare professionals to make informed decisions regarding the inclusion of vaccenic acid in their diets. What is undeniable is that the collective understanding of vaccenic acid's impact on inflammation and cardiovascular health is evolving, and scientific inquiry must continue to shed light on these intricate relationships.

Impact of Vaccenic Acid on Metabolic Syndromes

In addressing the impact of vaccenic acid on metabolic syndromes, it’s imperative to delve into the nuanced interplay between dietary components and metabolic health. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels — that occur together, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Here’s what current research suggests about the role of vaccenic acid in the context of these disorders:

  • Insulin Sensitivity: One critical aspect of metabolic syndrome is insulin resistance, which is when cells in the muscles, fat, and liver don't respond well to insulin and can't use glucose from the blood for energy. Some animal studies indicate that vaccenic acid may improve insulin sensitivity, suggesting potential benefits for managing blood sugar levels.1 However, human studies are less conclusive, necessitating careful consideration before drawing firm conclusions.
  • Lipid Profile: Concerning blood lipids, vaccenic acid might influence cholesterol levels. A number of studies have revealed that this trans-fat is uniquely metabolized in the human body, and it may not have the same detrimental effects on lipid profiles as industrially-produced trans fats. 2Some evidence points towards vaccenic acid's ability to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often referred to as 'bad' cholesterol, 3 although this remains controversial and is contradicted by other research.
  • Inflammation: Inflammation is a key player in the development of metabolic syndrome. Research into vaccenic acid has demonstrated mixed results, with some animal studies highlighting anti-inflammatory properties4, while others indicate no significant impact on inflammatory markers in humans5. The disparities warrant a cautious approach in evaluating vaccenic acid's role in inflammation related to metabolic syndrome.
  • Obesity: Excess weight, especially around the abdominal region, is a hallmark of metabolic syndrome. The role of vaccenic acid in obesity is particularly complex, with some studies suggesting it could lead to reduced fat accumulation6, while others have not found any significant effects. It’s crucial to interpret these findings with caution due to varying study designs and population differences.

While some research points toward a potentially beneficial role of vaccenic acid in metabolic health, it is prudent to recognize the limitations and inconsistencies that exist within the literature. Moreover, the diversity in sources of vaccenic acid – mainly dairy fat and ruminant meat – makes it even more challenging to isolate its effects from those of other dietary fats.7 This makes it difficult to generalize findings or to make definitive recommendations regarding vaccenic acid consumption for individuals with or at risk for metabolic syndromes without further in-depth, high-quality human research.

It is also worth noting that the overall dietary pattern and lifestyle play a significant role in the development and management of metabolic syndrome. Thus, while the exploration of individual nutrients like vaccenic acid is scientifically valuable, it must be contextualized within the broader spectrum of diet and health.


  1. Journal article on the effects of vaccenic acid on insulin sensitivity in animal models.
  2. Study comparing processed trans fats and naturally-occurring trans fats like vaccenic acid on lipid profiles.
  3. Research on the impact of vaccenic acid on LDL cholesterol levels.
  4. Animal study exploring the anti-inflammatory properties of vaccenic acid.
  5. Human trial examining the effects of vaccenic acid on inflammatory markers.
  6. Study investigating the relationship between vaccenic acid intake and fat accumulation.
  7. Comprehensive review assessing the sources and health implications of vaccenic acid.

The Potential Benefits of Vaccenic Acid: A Different Perspective

Vaccenic acid, often cast in a negative light due to its classification as a trans fat, may not be the dietary villain it's frequently made out to be. In the quest for a nuanced understanding, let's delve into the science that suggests potential benefits associated with this naturally occurring trans fatty acid.

Firstly, it's crucial to distinguish between industrial trans fats and naturally occurring trans fats like vaccenic acid. Industrial trans fats, which are made through the process of hydrogenation, have been associated with various health problems— prompting widespread removal from food products. Vaccenic acid, in contrast, is found in the fat of ruminants like cows and sheep, as well as their milk and meat products.

Emerging studies have begun to unveil a more complex picture of vaccenic acid, suggesting potential health benefits:

  • Conversion to Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA): The body can convert vaccenic acid into CLA, a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to have various health benefits. CLA is associated with reduced body fat, improved immune function, and potentially lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlighted this conversion process, suggesting the importance of dietary vaccenic acid for CLA production in humans.
  • Anti-inflammatory Properties: Some research, such as a study found in Lipids, indicates that vaccenic acid may have anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation is a common pathway for many chronic diseases, and thus vaccenic acid might play a role in their prevention or management.
  • Cardiometabolic Health: Contrary to the typical trans fat narrative, certain studies suggest vaccenic acid may not have adverse effects on cardiometabolic health. For instance, a study in Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases observed that increased levels of vaccenic acid were not associated with detrimental effects on blood lipids, glucose, insulin, or inflammatory markers in healthy humans.

It's important to recognize that these potential benefits should be weighed against the overall diet and lifestyle of an individual. While vaccenic acid might offer some positive health effects, these findings do not give a carte blanche to consume without regard for quantity or context. The balance of one's entire nutritional intake, including the kinds of fats consumed, plays a substantial role in health outcomes.

Moreover, the research surrounding vaccenic acid is evolving. The scientific community continues to evaluate the implications of this particular trans fat in comparison to industrial variants. The nuanced approach to understanding vaccenic acid's role in our diet underscores the importance of evidence-based assessments over broad-brush condemnations of any nutrient or compound.

References to the potentially beneficial aspects of vaccenic acid continue to surface as rigorous scrutiny is applied. However, the key message here aligns with a larger paradigm in nutritional science: moderation, variety, and the complexity of dietary patterns are essential factors in determining the health implications of specific fatty acids.

Frequently asked questions

Animal studies suggest that vaccenic acid may improve insulin sensitivity, which could be beneficial for blood sugar management in people with diabetes. However, human studies are inconclusive at this point. Diabetics should consult healthcare professionals before making dietary changes.

Current research is mixed but indicates that vaccenic acid may have a neutral or even slightly anti-inflammatory effect compared to artificial trans fats. This could potentially make it a healthier option, but more large-scale human studies are needed to confirm these effects.

Unlike artificial trans fats, vaccenic acid might not be as harmful to cardiovascular health and could even have protective effects due to its conversion into conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Yet, its full impact on heart health is still under study and should be understood within the context of an overall balanced diet.

Yes, vaccenic acid is found in the meat and dairy products of both grass-fed and grain-fed ruminants. However, grass-fed animals tend to have higher concentrations of this and other beneficial fatty acids in their fat.

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

Possible long-term side effects

  • possible increase in ldl cholesterol
  • potential contributions to cardiovascular disease

Commonly found in

  • dairy products
  • meat from ruminants
  • grass-fed animal products


  • converted to cla
  • may have anti-inflammatory effects
  • could be beneficial to cardiometabolic health

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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