Why high-protein diet can harm your arteries and heart health

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Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have uncovered how too much dietary protein might be bad for the heart, presenting their findings in Nature Metabolism.

They found that consuming more than 22% of daily calories from protein could activate immune cells involved in the development of atherosclerosis, or the hardening and narrowing of arteries, which increases the risk of heart disease.

This groundbreaking study spans from human trials to mouse models and lab-grown cells, pinpointing the amino acid leucine—found abundantly in animal products like beef, eggs, and milk—as a key player in this process.

The research team, led by Dr. Babak Razani, emphasizes that while protein is essential for health, an overemphasis on high-protein diets could unintentionally harm arterial health.

The American diet, known for its high protein content mostly from animal sources, aligns with the recent trend towards protein-heavy diets. However, this research suggests a need for a more balanced approach.

Dr. Razani’s work builds on previous studies indicating that excess dietary protein can increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

The researchers’ collaboration with Dr. Bettina Mittendorfer at the University of Missouri, Columbia, allowed them to delve into how amino acids from protein can trigger disease processes.

They focused on macrophages, a type of immune cell in the blood vessels, which can become dysfunctional when exposed to high levels of protein, particularly to amino acids like leucine. This dysfunction can lead to the worsening of atherosclerotic plaque.

The study’s innovative approach included feeding human participants protein-enriched meals and then observing the activation of immune cells.

These findings were mirrored in mouse models and cell studies, showing that high protein intake leads to an accumulation of cellular debris in the arteries, exacerbating heart disease risk.

The implications of these findings are significant, suggesting a need for “precision nutrition” that takes into account the individual’s dietary needs and the potential risks associated with high protein consumption.

This research is especially relevant in clinical settings where high-protein diets are often recommended to help patients maintain muscle mass and strength.

Dr. Razani cautions against increasing protein intake without considering its potential impact on heart health, advocating for balanced meals to avoid exacerbating cardiovascular conditions.

This study not only challenges the prevailing notion that more protein is always better but also opens the door to future research on finding the right balance of protein intake.

It highlights the importance of considering how specific nutrients, like leucine, affect our body at a molecular level, particularly in relation to heart disease.

Dr. Razani’s findings could lead to new dietary guidelines that promote heart health without compromising other nutritional needs, marking a significant step forward in the field of nutrition and cardiovascular research.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about how eating eggs can help reduce heart disease risk, and herbal supplements could harm your heart rhythm.

For more information about health, please see recent studies that olive oil may help you live longer, and vitamin D could help lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.

The research findings can be found in Nature Metabolism.

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