Saturday, February 1, 2020

How high protein diets may increase heart attack risk

Many people might choose to follow a diet high in protein content to lose weight and build muscle mass. But a new study in mice suggests that such a diet could put cardiovascular health at risk.

“There are clear weight loss benefits to high protein diets, which has boosted their popularity in recent years,” says Dr. Babak Razani, an associate professor of medicine from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO.

“But,” he adds, “animal studies and some large epidemiological studies in people have linked high dietary protein to cardiovascular problems.”

That is why Dr. Razani and his colleagues decided to try to find out whether high protein diets might actually influence cardiovascular health directly by facilitating the buildup of plaque inside the arteries.

‘A recipe for heart attack’

Mammal bodies, the researchers explain, actually have a first-line defense against arterial plaque. A type of white blood cells called “macrophages” usually “pick up” on the presence of these deposits and remove them.

However, sometimes they are unequal to the task. When this happens, macrophages die, leaving arterial plaque to continue to build up.

“In mice on the high protein diet, their plaques were a macrophage graveyard,” Dr. Razani says, commenting on what he and his team found.

The researchers also looked into the mechanism through which dietary protein may contribute to the creation of unstable arterial plaque.

To do so, they looked at what happens following the digestion of dietary protein — once, that is, it breaks down into the amino acids that have formed it.

The team found that the excess amino acids derived from a diet with a high protein content actually activate another protein — called mTOR — that is present in macrophages.

When mTOR becomes active, it sends a signal to the macrophage to focus on growing rather than identifying and cleaning up plaque buildup. Eventually, the abnormal growth process leads to macrophage death.

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