WHD 2021: Limited intake of high trans-fat foods prevents hypertension ─Experts

*Healthcare professionals say foods free of trans-fats are not automatically good for consumers, as food makers may substitute other ingredients for trans-fats that may not be healthy either

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

As the global community marks the World Hypertension Day (WHD) 2021, experts in the Nigerian health sector have stressed the need to enforce mandatory limits in consumption of foods high in trans-fatty acids or trans-fats.

ConsumerConnect reports the theme for this year’s is “Measure Your Blood Pressure Accurately, Control It, Live Longer”, focuses on combatting low awareness rates worldwide, especially in low to middle income areas.

The theme also promotes usage of accurate Blood Pressure (BP) measurement methods.

A woman having her Blood Pressure checked

World Hypertension Day is a day initiated by the World Hypertension League (WHL) to increase the awareness of hypertension as a silent epidemic.

This is crucial because of the lack of appropriate knowledge among hypertensive patients.

It is noted that WHD was first commemorated May 14, 2005, and since 2006, the WHL has dedicated May 17 every year as World Hypertension Day.

Thus, the Nigerian health professionals maintain that limiting the consumption of foods high in trans-fats is significant in reducing increasing cases of cardiovascular diseases and hypertension in the country.

Dr. Osayamen Olaye, an Abuja-based private medical practitioner, in an interview with Daily Times said that a trans-fat is double trouble for the consumers’ hearts.

A trans-fat is “an unsaturated fat formed during the hydrogenation of vegetable oils to produce margarine, and trans-fatty acids are viewed as a health risk because they raise cholesterol levels in consumers.

According to Dr. Olaye, a “trans-fat increases your “bad” cholesterol and lowers your “good” cholesterol.

He stated that trans-fat is considered the worst type of fat consumers can eat.

A diet laden with trans-fat increases your risk of heart disease, the leading killer of adults.

The more trans-fat you eat, the greater your risk of heart and blood vessel disease,” said he.

Pharmacist Okoro Amu also emphasised the need to keep the intake of trans-fats as low as possible.

The pharmacist noted if fatty deposits within the arteries tear or rupture, a blood clot may form and block blood flow to a part of the heart, causing a heart attack; or to a part of the brain, causing a stroke.

Okoro said: “Foods free of trans-fats aren’t automatically good for you. Food makers may substitute other ingredients for trans-fat that may not be healthy either.

“Some of these ingredients, such as tropical oils — coconut, palm kernel and palm oils — contain a lot of saturated fat.”

He stressed that “saturated fat raises your total cholesterol. In a healthy diet, about 20% to 35% of your total daily calories may come from fat.

“Try to keep saturated fat at less than 10% of your total daily calories.”

Report also indicates that hypertension affects more than 30 percent of the adult population worldwide, that is, over one billion people around the world.

Experts have opined that it is the main risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, especially coronary heart disease and stroke, but also for chronic kidney disease, heart failure, arrhythmia and dementia.

The burden of hypertension is felt disproportionately in low- and middle-income countries, where two-thirds of cases are found, largely due to increased risk factors in those populations in recent decades.

Accurate Blood Pressure (BP) measurement is essential for the proper diagnosis and management of hypertension.

Consumption of foods high in trans-fat in Nigeria

In Nigeria, it was estimated that there were about 20.8 million cases of hypertension among people aged at least 20 years in 2010, with a prevalence of 28.0 percent.

However, there is a projected increase to about 39.1 million cases of hypertension by 2030 in people aged at least 20 years, with a prevalence of 30.8 percent.

Hypertension, regarded as a silent killer, is anticipated to be closely linked to the consumption of foods high in trans-fat in the country.

Dr. Roli Ajuya, Senior Registrar Nephrology, Department of Internal Medicine, Delta State University Teaching Hospital, Oghara, disclosed that consumption of foods high in trans-fatty acids is a major risk factor in the rising cases of hypertension being experienced in Nigeria in recent times.

Ajuya noted that hypertension or elevated blood pressure is a serious medical condition that significantly increases the risks of heart, brain, kidney and other diseases.

She stated: “There are controllable and uncontrollable risk factors for hypertension.

“For the controllable factors, sedentary lifestyle, alcohol intake, smoking, diabetes, obesity, high salt diet, consumption of cholesterol-containing diets, foods high in saturated fats (the bad fats), trans-fat, contributes largely to High blood pressure.”

According to her, a trans-fat is a form of fat that is hazardous to the health as they are hydrogenated oils that have been chemically altered to make the oils have a longer shelf life, thereby making it unsafe for consumption.

Another way is consumers can eat foods high in trans-fats is the reusing of oils for frying.

So, the more a consumer re-uses an oil for frying, the more the oil becomes hazardous to our health.

Bad cholesterol is implicated in the development of hypertension and trans fat consumption is a risk factor in this development.

The expert, speaking on the sources of trans-fats in food, highlighted pastries, fries, fast foods, red meat, pork meat and use of industrially produced partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs).

Dr. Ajuya, however, called for the use of non-hydrogenated vegetable oils, and consumption of fish and chicken.

Likewise, Dr. Maji Usman, a Senior Registrar, Nephrology and Hypertension, Department of Internal Medicine, Federal Medical Centre, Keffi, in Nasarawa State, recommended the use of dietary approach to stop hypertension (DASH) through the consumption of diet high in calcium, potassium, white meat, fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Usman said that eliminating trans-fat food will contribute largely to the reduction in the rising cases of hypertension as artificially modified trans-fat increases the bad fat in the body and reduces the good fat in the body.

He explained: “This makes the blood vessels stiff, and subsequently leading to Atherosclerosis which is the build-up of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on the artery walls. This build-up is called plaque.

The plaque can cause the arteries to narrow and even block blood flow. The plaque accumulation can lead to the formation of blood clots due to the slowing down or stoppage of blood flow, he noted.

These clots can break away from their area of formation and be transported in the blood stream to distant parts of the body where if they reach narrower blood vessels can lead to total blockage of blood supply to the organs supplied by those blood vessels.

Indeed, the backed up pressure built by the blockage of these vessels can also lead these vessels to swell and eventually burst causing severe organ damage.

Examples of vessels that can be blocked include vessels supplying the heart, the brain, the eyes, kidneys, liver, etc.

This thus leads to a wide range of medical complications that result from the consumption of trans-fat,” report stated.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), recent data revealed that over 500,000 people die yearly from cardiovascular diseases which is attributable to consumption of trans-fat.

Dr. Usman added: “The low awareness on the dangers of consumption of trans fat food amongst Nigerians is very poor, what we have done clinically is to attend to patients with risk factors but there is need for more advocacy and regulation on the gram content of trans-fats in food products.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Okorie, a Resident Doctor in the Internal Medicine Department, Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakiliki, in Ebonyi State, has said that trans-fat consumption leads to an increase in low density lipoprotein and decrease in high density lipoprotein.

Okorie recommended that in a bid to reduce consumption of trans-fat foods, it is imperative to read up on nutrition fact labels on food before purchase as it is a means of confirming the trans-fat content in each food product.

“Trans-fat is seen in synthetic foods; so being knowledgeable about this especially at the point of purchase is important,” said he.

The Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) is also working with a coalition of national and international public and civil society stakeholders to mobilise scientific evidence specific to Nigeria to aid NAFDAC, Federal Ministry of Health, and policy makers at all levels to recognise the dangers posed to the health of the population by unregulated consumption of foods high in trans-fatty acids in the country.

They are also providing additional technical expertise to NAFDAC and other agencies to assist the early and effective enactment of appropriate regulations and their enforcement.

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