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Healthy Meat: New Generation of Trans Fat Research

20 November 2008

CANADA - Alberta's livestock industry is investing $2 million to spearhead the next generation of research into the health benefits of natural trans fats.

The funding, awarded through a grant from the Alberta Livestock Industry Development Fund (ALIDF), will support a multi-pronged, five-year natural trans fat research program led by the Alberta Institute for Human Nutrition, University of Alberta.

The program is an anchor component of the CLA Network - a multi-disciplinary team representing producers and industry, government, the research and academic community and other specialized expertise, which has built a substantial track record in driving progress to understand healthy components of dairy and beef.


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"This can help to revitalize the health image of dairy and beef products"
Dr. Spencer Proctor, CLA Network Science Lead.

Past research by the University of Alberta, and the CLA Network as a whole, has indicated that the major types of natural trans fats found in dairy and beef products are not harmful and in fact show surprising health-boosting properties. The new five year research program will seek to further establish and understand these health benefits, including through human clinical trials.

"The renewed commitment of Alberta's livestock industry to our program is a major component to the progress we envision, which represents tremendous potential to benefit dairy and beef industries, as well as consumers and the nutrition and health communities," says principal researcher Dr. Spencer Proctor, CLA Network Science Lead.

The funding support and research plans represent an important strategic partnership bringing together industry and research as well as human health and agriculture, says Proctor. "We have the world-class science, research team and the network in place to do great things. This type of funding support allows us to realize this potential. It also provides invaluable anchor support that will help us to attract additional investment and resources."

CLA Network research has centered on conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a natural fatty acid produced only by ruminant animals, which has been shown to contain strong antioxidant, anti-tumor and other health-boosting properties. Studies based on animal models have shown CLA, which is technically a trans fat, has considerable potential to deliver specific human health benefits beyond basic nutrition. These benefits include helping to prevent or fight cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease and metabolic syndrome, as well as to improve bone density.

Strong health promise has also been shown for trans vaccenic acid (VA), an additional dairy and beef fatty acid that is converted to CLA in the human body. In the most recent animal model trial conducted by Proctor and colleagues, feeding of this natural trans fat was associated with a major lowering of triglyceride levels and a modest lowering of both total and LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels - all key risk factors for cardiovascular disease and other health threats.

"Knowledge of both CLA and VA can go a long way in helping the public to learn that there is a clear difference between natural trans fats from livestock products and harmful hydrogenated trans fat created through industrial processing," says Proctor. "This can help to revitalize the health image of dairy and beef products, and drive numerous innovations spanning product development, nutrition and health."

Funding invested by ALIDF, a multi-commodity livestock organization, will support research aimed at further understanding how natural trans fats affect health, including planned human clinical trials focused on heart disease and childhood obesity. The later will be conducted in collaboration with the Stollery Children's Hospital, Pediatric Centre for Weight and Health.

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