How fat can help fight heart disease

8 June 2015        

A close up image of blood vessels
The fat surrounding our blood vessels can help fight heart disease and reduce the risk of a heart attack, according to research presented today at a major conference.

The studies were led by one of our Research Fellows, Professor Charalambos Antoniades at the University of Oxford, and presented at the British Cardiovascular Society (BCS) Conference in Manchester. 

The results may help explain the medical mystery that people with a high Body Mass Index (BMI), signifying obesity, are actually more likely to live longer after a heart attack than someone with a healthy BMI.

Unravelling the mysteries of fat

Professor Antoniades and his colleagues analysed tissue collected from patients undergoing heart surgery and revealed how the heart, and the arteries supplying blood to it, send out an SOS to the fat surrounding these tissues in order to stimulate a defence mechanism against the early stages of coronary heart disease.

With our support, the researchers revealed that during oxidative stress (a process that leads to the furring of the arteries known as atherosclerosis), the fat surrounding the vessels and heart releases chemicals that minimise this oxidative stress and help to prevent the development of coronary heart disease. These chemicals are anti-inflammatory to minimise the inflammation triggered by oxidative stress and anti-oxidant to target the damaging process itself.

From discovery to new treatment

Professor Charalambos Antoniades, Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Oxford, said:

"Fat has a bad reputation but we’re learning more and more about how and why certain types of fat in the body are actually essential for good heart health. These findings are an important step towards a treatment that ensures this fat stays on-side throughout our lives to help prevent heart disease."

The team are now looking at how these healthy processes can be weakened if the fat is unhealthy, as can be the case if a person has type 2 diabetes. They are developing treatments to reverse this so this fat has a positive impact all the time.

By using a newly developed technology based on highly sensitive CT scanning, they are also trying to monitor the behaviour of fat in the human body to detect the earliest stages of disease so doctors know treatment is urgently needed to prevent disease developing further.

High quality research

Professor Jeremy Pearson, our Associate Medical Director, said:

“There’s still a huge amount we don’t know about how heart disease develops and what processes in the body can help prevent it from happening.

“This high quality research carried out in people and using human tissue has provided new perspectives on the roles of fat in heart disease and has implications for future treatment.”

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