It is well known that over the long run, a high-fat diet increases the risk of heart attack and stroke."Learning about how fat, in the short run, protects against heart attacks could help in the development of better therapies," said Walter Keith Jones from the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in the US.

Jones said that in the short-term, a high-fat diet protects the heart through a mechanism called autophagy, which works somewhat like a garbage truck.

The study may provide new insight into the "obesity paradox": Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease. But once a heart attack or heart failure does occur, moderately obese patients tend to live longer. Proteins damaged by the heart attack are removed from heart cells as if they were garbage, thus increasing the chances the cells will survive.

In the study, mice were given a high-fat diet (60 percent of calories from animal fat) before experiencing heart attacks. Mice that consumed a high-fat diet for either one day, one week or two weeks before the heart attack experienced about half as much heart damage as mice that ate a control diet.

The benefit was greatest among mice that ate a high-fat diet for one week before the heart attack.But in mice that ate a high-fat diet for six weeks, the protective effect disappeared.

The study was published in the American Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology.


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