Patients with Normal Lipid Profiles with High-fat Diets May Still Face Atherosclerosis Risk

February 24, 2009

Researchers found that "high-fat diets, even if consumed for a short amount of time, can inflame fat tissue surrounding blood vessels, possibly contributing to cardiovascular disease."

According to University of Cincinnati researchers, “high-fat diets, even if consumed for a short amount of time, can inflame fat tissue surrounding blood vessels, possibly contributing to cardiovascular disease.”

Neal Weintraub, MD, director of the Division of Cardiovascular Disease of the College of medicine of the University of Cincinnati, and colleagues found that the adipose tissue surrounding the coronary arteries of humans is “highly inflamed.” They posited that this could in turn trigger inflammation of the coronary blood vessels, contributing to atherosclerosis.

The researchers also studied the adipose tissue around coronary arteries in mice that had been fed a high-fat diet. The researchers reported that these tissues were also inflamed and that this condition became more severe even after a comparatively brief (two-week) increase in dietary fat intake.

These results are important because, according to Weintraub, they may indicate a hidden health risk. Although elevated lipid levels are a known risk factor for atherosclerosis, “many patients who consume high-fat diets do not exhibit abnormal lipid profiles but still develop atherosclerosis nonetheless,” he said.

The diets fed to the mice in the study produce “striking abnormalities of the fat tissue surrounding blood vessels in a very short period of time,” independent of weight gain or blood lipids, said Weintraub. “This is a warning to those who say there isn’t a problem because their weight and cholesterol levels are under control. Lipid profiles don’t hold all the answers.”

Weintraub said that researchers do not yet completely understand why fat cells surrounding coronary arteries are so responsive to high-fat diets and that “there is no real way to measure the effects of poor dietary habits on fat tissue surrounding blood vessels.”

These study results provide further evidence that “Bad dietary habits can lead to a number of problems, and this suggests that a high-fat diet is detrimental in ways we didn’t previously understand,” Weintraub said.

Click here to access a study abstract from Circulation Research.

specialty: cardiology