This change in gene expression (epigenetics) ultimately keeps the risk of cardiovascular disorders higher than it would be had there been no exposure to unhealthy foods in the first place, the researchers noted.

"I hope that this study demonstrates the importance of diet-induced changes in the epigenome and encourages further research into the interaction between dietary patterns, DNA methylation and disease," said Erik van Kampen, a researcher involved in the work from Leiden University at Leiden in the Netherlands.

The effects of an unhealthy lifestyle could affect the way the immune system functions even after successful treatment of atherosclerosis plaque builds up inside the arteries that could limit the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body.

To make their discovery, scientists used two groups of mice that had an altered gene making them more susceptible to developing high blood cholesterol and atherosclerosis.

These mice were either fed a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet (western-type diet) or a normal diet.

The study appeared in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.

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