A study conducted by researchers from the University of Surrey has found that a high-sugar diet can change the way the body metabolizes fat, leading to an increased risk of heart disease. The study, published in the journal Clinical Science, suggests that high consumption of sugar alters how the liver functions to break down fat.
Participants in the study consumed a high-sugar diet for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, researchers found that participants had higher levels of fat in their blood and liver than participants who did not eat the high-sugar diet.
In addition, researchers found that the participants who had higher levels of fat in their blood and liver showed similarities to individuals who had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease affects 30 to 40 percent of adults and 10 percent of children in the U.S. and develops when the liver stops metabolizing fat. As a result of the disease, fat builds up in the liver. Many patients with the condition also have obesity and type 2 diabetes, two additional risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke.
The study is also evidence that diets high in sugar can affect the heart because the body is unable to metabolize fat.
“The results of the study are important because many people do not realize that a diet high in sugar or carbohydrates can negatively impact heart health, and they assume that if they avoid a diet high in saturated fat, they’ll be fine,” said Dr. Michael Budler, M.D.
Budler is an interventional radiologist in Grand Island, Nebraska.
When the body does not correctly metabolize fat, fat in the bloodstream builds up in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis.
Fat buildup in the arteries, also known as plaque, reduces blood flow to extremities, organs and other tissues. Plaque buildup also increases blood pressure as the heart strains to keep blood moving.
“When fat builds up in the arteries, it reduces the amount of room that blood has to flow, which can lead to a potentially fatal situation, like a heart attack or stroke, if an individual develops a blood clot that cannot pass through the narrowed blood vessel,” Budler said.
“If the clot cannot pass through the narrowed artery, it causes a temporary blockage of blood flow and oxygen to the heart, organs or brain.”
To treat patients with atherosclerosis, Budler uses balloon angioplasty to push back the fat buildup onto the arterial wall. The angioplasty procedure increases the space for blood to flow through.
Some patients require vascular mesh stenting, a procedure in which a fine mesh screening is placed into the artery after the angioplasty to hold the plaque back against the artery wall.
According to the American Heart Association, around 92.1 million adults in the U.S. are living with a form of cardiovascular disease or with the after-effects of a stroke.
The study was eye-opening for researchers, who hope it has a positive impact on improving the health of people across the country.
Researchers noted during the study that although most adults do not regularly consume the high amount of sugar that participants did during the investigation, some children and teenagers may consume large quantities of sugar daily.
The study could lead to new research and a new way of thinking about nutrition and its impact on the risk of heart disease, stroke and liver disease in children and adults, a fact that is important to Budler.
“Understanding how sugar and other types of food can lead to heart disease will advance interventions and change how people think about nutrition. Ultimately, understanding will help improve health outcomes for both adults and children,” Budler said.
University of Surrey. “Too much sugar? Even ‘healthy people’ are at risk of developing heart disease.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 October 2017.