Here’s why high-fat diets can trigger heart attacks, significant cardiac damage

READING, England — Consuming fatty foods can increase one’s risk of heart attack, and now scientists may have pinpointed the reason why. According to scientists from the University of Reading, high-fat diets may trigger the over-activation of a specific heart protein, which then becomes destructive.

In the study, rats were fed high-fat diets, during which their cell oxidative stress levels doubled. This resulted in cardiac hypertrophy in which the cells of the heart enlarge — in this case to 1.8 times their normal size. For comparison, the diet included 45% fat, 35% carbs, and 20% protein.

“Our research shows one way in which a high-fat diet can cause damage to the muscle cells that make up our hearts. It appears that a switch happens at a cellular level when the mice were fed on a high-fat regime which causes a normally harmless protein, Nox2, to become overactive,” says the first author of the paper, Dr. Sunbal Naureen Bhatti, in a statement. The precise nature of how the Nox2 protein goes onto cause oxidative damage and set off destructive hypertrophy is still being researched.”

The study shows that mice with high-fat content also had double the activity of Nox2. Increasing amounts of Nox2 produced twice the amount of a free radical that is known for causing damage to the body, known as reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Mice who were bred to block the cellular activation of the protein Nox2 were also fed a high-fat diet to test the involvement of Nox2 in cardiac stress. Results showed no inflation of oxidative stress in these mice. Additionally, researchers reduced the effects of Nox2 by three different treatments, which in turn reduced ROS damage in the cardiac tissue of the mice. 

“We are really just scratching the surface of how the protein Nox2 responds to diets, but our research clearly demonstrates that high-fat diets have the potential to cause significant damage to the heart,” added Dr. Bhatti.

This study is published in the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.