Whether you’re young or young at heart, ditching the typical Western diet for a produce-based Mediterranean diet could help reduce risk of heart failure following a heart attack. In a recent study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers focused on older people and the role of excess dietary fat in cardiovascular health.
Much of daily food consumption involved in a Mediterranean diet consists of vegetables fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and seafood. Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt are eaten in moderation, and red meat is eaten only occasionally. This type of diet is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which scientists consider to be essential to human health. They have heart healthy benefits as well as important roles In visual and neurological development. The Mediterranean diet maintains a healthy balance of omega-3 fatty acids and another kind, omega-6.
The typical Western diet, on the other hand, is disproportionately high in omega-6 fatty acids, and an excess of omega-6 promotes inflammation through dysfunctional lipid signaling.
Cardiac injuries like heart attacks initially cause acute inflammation that’s healthy, but when it is continuous, chronic inflammation like that from dysfunctional lipid signaling can lead to heart failure. With excess dietary fat in the form of omega-6 fatty acids, individuals are more prone to this very kind of dysfunctional lipid signaling after experiencing a heart attack, exacerbating conditions leading to heart failure.
Following a heart attack, excess omega-6 fatty acid intake inhibits post-heart attack recovery by, scientists say, enhancing chemokine signaling, which “drives the signaling network between the heart and spleen and the heart and kidneys toward a nonresolving microenvironment.”
Researchers estimate that almost five million Americans suffer heart failure specifically as an age-related disease following heart attack, and so the researchers from Alabama focused on aged mice in their study to understand more about the relationship between age, high-fat diets, and heart disease.
The scientists compared aged mice fed a lean diet and mice fed excess omega-6 fatty acids in the form of safflower oil, representing the typical Western diet. Compared to the lean mice, mice fed excess fat showed reduce levels of three distinct lipoxygenase enzymes in the dead tissues of the heart muscle. One type of lipoxygenase enzymes, called resolvins, are found in dietary omega-3 fatty acids and are named for their ability to produce “resolving” signal lipids. Without resolvins and other similar enzymes, this group of mice had a severely weakened ability to resolve acute inflammation following cardiac injury.
The omega-6 fatty acid-fed mice also showed increased levels of pro-inflammatory macrophages, to add insult to injury. Lastly, these mice experienced more kidney damage and higher levels of signaling cytokines that promote inflammation: tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a) and interleukin-1-beta (IL-1b).
This study and more that are sure to come and confirm these results provide ample evidence that suggests a Mediterranean-style diet is the best bet for elderly individuals to recover successfully from a heart attack.