We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and scientists involved in a new study would agree. From the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares Carlos III (CNIC), researchers show that a high-energy breakfast is vital to protect the heart and blood vessels from disease.
"People who regularly skip breakfast likely have an overall unhealthy lifestyle," explained study author and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD. "This study provides evidence that this is one bad habit people can proactively change to reduce their risk for heart disease."
The CNIC’s Progression and Early Detection of Atherosclerosis study (PESA) was the first to produce solid proof for the link between breakfast habits and the risk of atherosclerosis, a disease characterized by a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels that provide the heart and other organs with oxygen-rich blood. Plaques block blood flow and lead to serious heart diseases. Inside a plaque could be fat, cholesterol, calcium and other compounds in the body. Certain factors, like smoking, physical inactivity, and unhealthy eating habits can increase a person’s risk of developing atherosclerotic plaques.
PESA included 4,000 middle-aged office workers participating over a six-year study period. The study looked specifically for subclinical atherosclerotic plaques, those that exist in early phases of atherosclerosis and show no symptoms.
To break down the relationship between cardiovascular health and a balanced breakfast, researchers used non-invasive vascular ultrasound imaging technology to observe plaques in the arteries of people with different breakfast habits:
High-energy breakfast - greater than 20 percent of the recommended daily calorie intake
Low-energy breakfast - between five and 20 percent of daily calorie intake
No breakfast or very little - under five percent of daily caloric intake
For people who ate little to no breakfast, their risk of developing atherosclerotic plaques was on average 1.5 times greater than those eating a high-energy breakfast. But in some specific arteries, the risk was 2.5 times greater. Additionally, according to the study researchers, those who ate little to no breakfast were more likely to have other unhealthy eating habits and a higher prevalence of heart disease risk factors.
None of the study participants had a previous history of heart disease, and the risk associated with eating little to no breakfast was shown to be independent of other risk factors for atherosclerosis: smoking, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, and more.
"We need earlier and more precise risk markers for the early phases of atherosclerosis that will allow us to improve strategies to prevent myocardial infarction, stroke, and sudden death,” explained PESA’s Dr. Antonio Fernandez-Ortiz. “These latest results make a definite contribution to achieving this goal."
The present study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.