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High-Fat Diet... Reduces Heart Attack Damage?

Feb 17, 2015 04:07 PM EST
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It is well known that in the long run, eating fatty foods is bad for you and can increase your risk of having a stroke or heart attack. But a surprising new study shows that a high-fat diet may actually be beneficial to your health, and help to reduce heart attack damage.

That is, at least in the short term. According to new findings published in the American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology, if you are going to have a heart attack, you are likely to get through it better if you ate a high-fat diet before it happened. Mice that were fed a high-fat diet for one day to two weeks before a heart attack had 50 percent less damage to the body after the episode occurred.

If the results could be translated to humans, researchers say, that would mean pigging out on cheeseburgers and ice cream for a month to a year. Though, medical professionals and scientists alike don't recommend this kind of preventative strategy for a variety of other obvious reasons.

This new study is another example of what is called the "obesity paradox" - the unexplained phenomenon in which obese patients who have a heart attack actually live longer than thinner heart attack victims.

"The study improves our understanding of the relationship between diet and health," Dr. W. Keith Jones of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, who led the research, said in a statement. "Learning about how fat, in the short run, protects against heart attacks could help in the development of better therapies."

According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, and that includes heart attacks (myocardial infarction). Each year, about 720,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 515,000 are a first heart attack and 205,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.

During the study, mice were given a high-fat diet, in which 60 percent of the calories came from animal fat, before they had a heart attack. Those that consumed this fatty diet for either one day, one week or two weeks prior to the episode experienced about half as much heart damage as mice that ate a control diet.

The mice that ate a high-fat diet for one week before the heart attack experienced the most benefits. But for the rodents that ate a high-fat diet for six weeks, the protective effects disappeared, showing that there may be a fine line when it comes to the obesity paradox.

So how exactly do these short-term protective effects work? According to Jones, a high-fat diet can be beneficial because of autophagy. The way this mechanism works is that proteins damaged by the heart attack are removed from heart cells, just like garbage, thus increasing the chances the cells will survive. Interestingly, a high-fat diet increases levels of a molecule in the blood that activates protective pathways in heart muscle. This increases the readiness of the so-called "garbage trucks," which means that the cell becomes resistant to damage when the heart attack occurs. As a result, more heart muscle survives.

Given the fact that obesity is an epidemic currently affecting millions of people around the world, especially in the United States, researchers believe understanding the relationship between fat intake and heart health is critical.

You can help to prevent having a heart attack, the CDC says, by lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol. This includes eating a diet that is low in salt and saturated fat, and rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, abstaining from smoking and regular exercise.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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