The fat surrounding blood vessels can help fight heart disease.
The new research may help explain the paradox that people with a Body Mass Index that signifies obesity are actually more likely to live longer after a heart attack than someone with a healthy BMI.
The studies, led by a British Heart Foundation research fellow Professor Charalambos Antoniades, involved analysis of tissue collected from patients undergoing heart surgery.
Professor Antoniades discovered how the heart, and the arteries supplying blood to it, send out an SOS to the fatsurrounding these tissues in order to stimulate a defence mechanism against the early stages of coronary heart disease.
The research revealed that during oxidative stress, a process that leads to the furring of the arteries known as atherosclerosis, the fat surrounding the vessels and heart releases chemicals that minimise it and help prevent the development of coronary heart disease.
The chemicals are anti-inflammatory to minimise the inflammation triggered by oxidative stress and anti-oxidant to target the process itself.
Professor Antoniades acknowledged that “fat has a bad reputation”.
“But we’re learning more and more about how and why certain types of fat in the body are actually essential for good heart health. These findings are an important step towards a treatment that ensures this fat stays on-side throughout our lives to help prevent heart disease.”
The team is looking at how these healthy processes can be weakened if the fat is unhealthy, as can be the case if a person has type 2 diabetes. The researchers are developing treatments to reverse this so the fat has a positive impact all the time.
By using a newly developed technology based on high resolution computerised tomography, they are also trying to monitor the behaviour of fat in the human body, and guide future therapeutic interventions to prevent cardiovascular diseases.
This could allow doctors to detect the earliest stages of heart disease and urgently direct treatment to prevent the development of the disease which can ultimately lead to a heart attack.