Researchers find link between a high fat diet, obesity and cardiovascular disease risk

February 13, 2017, Queen Mary, University of London
Researchers find link between a high fat diet, obesity and cardiovascular disease risk
Credit: Queen Mary, University of London

Obesity and a diet high in fat could lead to a harmful activation of the immune system, increasing a person's risk of heart disease, according to a study led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

Previous research has shown that obesity increases and cholesterol – both risk factors for . Now researchers funded by the British Heart Foundation believe obesity could also trigger an immune response, increasing a person's risk of a heart attack. The findings could lead to new treatments that target this inflammation to reduce a person's risk of heart disease.

The study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, involved taking blood samples from 1,172 lean, overweight or . They found that a certain type of white blood cell, or T-cell, was present in in obese people.

When the team measured the fat distribution of these same people they also found that those carrying more fat around the middle had higher levels of these cells than those carrying fat on their thighs and bottom.

T-cells are essential for the as they protect the body from infections. However, they also cause inflammation which can make a number of cardiovascular diseases worse. For example, they can contribute to the build-up of fatty plaques in arteries in atherosclerosis, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Higher levels of these T-cells were also present in mice fed a high fat diet, leading the researchers to conclude that a , which leads to obesity, is a cause of this harmful inflammation.

Professor Federica Marelli-Berg from QMUL's William Harvey Research Institute said: "With this research we've found a direct link between the food we eat, our weight and dangerous inflammation which can cause heart disease.

"Drugs which target the molecule responsible for this inflammation are already being tested in clinical trials aimed at treating cancer. As such, it might be possible to re-purpose these drugs for the treatment of heart disease."

Dr Claudio Mauro added: "Our next step is to find out how long these harmful T-cells remain in our blood at high levels. As yet we don't know whether dieting will bring the levels of these T-cells down and reduce the risk of heart disease or whether once raised these T-cell levels remain high for life."

Professor Metin Avkiran, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Every three minutes someone goes to hospital with a in the UK. We already know that being overweight can increase your blood pressure and result in high cholesterol levels, both of which are bad news for our heart.

"This study shows that what we eat may also have an effect on our cardiovascular health via our immune system. The good news is that by knowing exactly how this harmful inflammatory process works we are one step closer to finding a way to prevent it. We now need more research to see if drugs that are already available could be a means for tackling this and lowering a person's risk of heart disease, over and above the benefits of maintaining a healthy diet."

Explore further: Too many Americans have high blood pressure, doctors warn

More information: Claudio Mauro et al. Obesity-Induced Metabolic Stress Leads to Biased Effector Memory CD4+ T Cell Differentiation via PI3K p110δ-Akt-Mediated Signals, Cell Metabolism (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2017.01.008

Related Stories

Too many Americans have high blood pressure, doctors warn

February 7, 2017
(HealthDay)—A group of family physicians warns that too many Americans struggle with high blood pressure.

MicroRNAs may link inflammation and heart disease in obese people

August 29, 2016
Inflammation likely plays a role in the increased risk of heart disease that comes with obesity, but scientists don't fully understand how obesity leads to heart disease. Results from a new study suggest that small molecules ...

A simple blood test could help identify people at risk of a heart attack, a study has found

December 21, 2016
Research shows the troponin test – currently used to help diagnose a heart attack – could be used to assess future heart disease risk.

Blood tests reveal early signs of CVD risk in obese African-American teens

September 17, 2015
Long before they have symptoms, blood tests in obese African-American teens, especially girls, reveal immune system changes linked to greater cardiovascular disease risk, according to a study presented at the American Heart ...

Severe obesity and heart failure

September 16, 2016
(HealthDay)—Severe obesity appears to be an independent risk factor for heart failure, a new study suggests.

Lowering cholesterol to 'levels of a new-born' cuts heart attack risk

December 16, 2016
Reducing our cholesterol levels to those of a new-born baby significantly lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to new research.

Recommended for you

Mice make over four times as many new heart muscle cells when they exercise, study finds

April 25, 2018
Doctors, health organizations, and the Surgeon General all agree that exercise is good for the heart—but the reasons why are still not well understood.

Heart disease may only be a matter of time for those with healthy obesity

April 24, 2018
People who are 30 pounds or more overweight may want to slim down a bit even if they don't have high blood pressure or any other heart disease risk, according to scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

A wearable device intervention to increase exercise in peripheral artery disease

April 24, 2018
A home-based exercise program, consisting of wearable devices and telephone coaching, did not improve walking ability for patients with peripheral artery disease, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Women at greater risk of stress-induced ischemia after heart attacks

April 24, 2018
Women who've previously experienced a heart attack have twice the risk of later myocardial ischemia provoked by mental stress when compared to men with a similar history, according to a study published in Circulation.

Electric cars don't jolt implanted heart devices: study

April 24, 2018
(HealthDay)—People who have implanted devices to keep their hearts running smoothly can safely drive an electric car if they wish to do so, new research confirms.

Hippo pathway found essential to orchestrate the development of the heart

April 23, 2018
Using a technology that provides a 'high-resolution view' of the status of individual cells, a team of researchers has gained new insights into the embryonic development of the mouse heart. They discovered that during development, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.