These “Bad Foods” Could Help You Survive a Heart Attack

By on February 25, 2015
Usually nutritionists recommend avoiding fat to prevent a heart attack.

New research from Loyola University challenges this claim, however.

According to research published in the American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology, mice who ate foods high in fat two weeks before a heart attack had 50 percent less heart damage, indicating that fat–even the bad kind–could protect the heart during a cardiac event.

The findings present an issue to researchers, as eating foods high in fat usually cause obesity–and obesity is a leading risk factor for a heart attack.

“[This study] opens a new perspective on the acute effects of a high-fat diet,” says Lauren Haar, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a doctoral student in the Systems Biology and Physiology Graduate Program at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “Future work will determine whether these effects are linked to the obesity paradox and whether studying the mechanism can identify therapeutic targets for cardioprotection.”

Using laboratory mice, researchers fed them a diet where 60 percent of the fat came from animal products, foods which usually contain bad types of fat such as saturated fat. Mice then continued to eat this food for a day, a week, or two weeks before they experienced a heart attack. A control group that also experienced a heart attack was also included in the study.

Comparing the results, researchers found that eating a high-fat diet one or two weeks prior to a heart attack had a strange effect–it cut its damage to the heart by nearly half. The mice who did not receive this special diet suffered more severe heart damage, however, suggesting to researchers that fat could have a protective heart effect.

But why? Researchers believe a short-term increase in fat intake increases molecules in the blood that protect the heart muscle, keeping it safe from permanent damage.

“In the short-term, a high-fat diet protects the heart through a mechanism called autophagy, which works somewhat like a garbage truck,” says W. Keith Jones, Ph.D., a researcher from the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “Proteins damaged by the heart attack are removed from heart cells as if they were garbage, thus increasing the chances the cells will survive.”

However, researchers warn that these findings don’t necessarily mean it’s fine to binge on donuts and pizza. Doing so could put people at risk of obesity and heart disease, two major risk factors for a heart attack. Instead, these findings should be implemented for people already at risk of a heart attack.

“This could be a way to “pre-treat” patients at risk of a heart attack,” says Haar. “This could change the way we view nutrition and dietary recommendations.”

Their suggestion? Don’t fear fat–in moderation, it could be good for you (and your heart). Overdoing anything is never good for your health, however.

Readers: Do you think fat is healthy? Why or why not?

In the Short Run, a High-Fat Diet May Help Minimize Heart Attack
Short-Term, High-Fat Diet May Initiate Protection During Heart

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