Effects of ruminant trans fatty acids on cardiovascular disease and cancer: a comprehensive review of epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies

Adv Nutr. 2011 Jul;2(4):332-54. doi: 10.3945/an.111.000521. Epub 2011 Jun 28.


There are 2 predominant sources of dietary trans fatty acids (TFA) in the food supply, those formed during the industrial partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils (iTFA) and those formed by biohydrogenation in ruminants (rTFA), including vaccenic acid (VA) and the naturally occurring isomer of conjugated linoleic acid, cis-9, trans-11 CLA (c9,t11-CLA). The objective of this review is to evaluate the evidence base from epidemiological and clinical studies to determine whether intake of rTFA isomers, specifically VA and c9,t11-CLA, differentially affects risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer compared with iTFA. In addition, animal and cell culture studies are reviewed to explore potential pro- and antiatherogenic mechanisms of VA and c9,t11-CLA. Some epidemiological studies suggest that a positive association with coronary heart disease risk exists between only iTFA isomers and not rTFA isomers. Small clinical studies have been conducted to establish cause-and-effect relationships between these different sources of TFA and biomarkers or risk factors of CVD with inconclusive results. The lack of detection of treatment effects reported in some studies may be due to insufficient statistical power. Many studies have used doses of rTFA that are not realistically attainable via diet; thus, further clinical studies are warranted. Associations between iTFA intake and cancer have been inconsistent, and associations between rTFA intake and cancer have not been well studied. Clinical studies have not been conducted investigating the cause-and-effect relationship between iTFA and rTFA intake and risk for cancers. Further research is needed to determine the health effects of VA and c9,t11-CLA in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Dairy Products / analysis
  • Humans
  • Hydrogenation
  • Linoleic Acids, Conjugated / adverse effects*
  • Linoleic Acids, Conjugated / metabolism
  • Meat / analysis
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Oleic Acids / adverse effects*
  • Oleic Acids / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Ruminants
  • Trans Fatty Acids / adverse effects*
  • Trans Fatty Acids / metabolism


  • Linoleic Acids, Conjugated
  • Oleic Acids
  • Trans Fatty Acids
  • 9,11-linoleic acid
  • 11-octadecenoic acid