Single Milkshake Can Set Stage for Heart Attack: Study

Single Milkshake Can Set Stage for Heart Attack: Study


A single high-fat milkshake can almost immediately transform healthy red blood cells into small spiky cells that help set the perfect stage for cardiovascular disease, say researchers from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Their discovery may help explain reports of heart attacks and deaths immediately following high-fat meals.

Only four hours after consuming a milkshake made with whole milk, heavy whipping cream, and ice cream, the blood vessels of healthy young men were less able to relax. In addition, the high-fat food provoked an immune response similar to one caused by an infection.

Since the individuals in the study were healthy, scientists say the effects were probably temporary, but they warned that the toll accumulates from this type of unhealthy eating that’s similar to a lot of restaurant fare.

For the study, healthy males ate a meal containing the same number of calories. One group drank the milkshakes containing about 80 grams of fat and 1,000 calories. The second group ate three big bowls of sugar-coated flakes with non-fat milk that also contained 1,000 calories. While the cereal meal also contained too many calories and too much sugar, which the scientists do not recommend as part of a healthy diet, those who ate the cereal didn’t have the same dangerous changes to their blood, red blood cells, and blood vessels.

The study was the first to look specifically at red blood cells, the most plentiful cell in our blood. Red cells are very flexible and carry oxygen throughout the body, say the researchers, but a single high-fat meal causes them to change size and get smaller, and to basically grow spikes and spew poison.

In both the cells and blood of those who consumed the milkshake, there was evidence the body was manufacturing an enzyme produced by a type of white blood cell called myeloperoxidase, or MPO. At high levels in the blood, MPO has been linked to stiff blood vessels, oxidative stress, and heart attack in humans.

MPO can impair the ability of blood vessels to dilate. It’s even associated with the oxidation of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, which converts this usually protective type of cholesterol into a type that contributes to heart disease. When absorbed by a diseased artery, MPO can help destabilize the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.

“You are looking at what one high-fat meal does to blood-vessel health,” says Dr. Ryan A. Harris.

“We see this hopefully as a public service to get people to think twice about eating this way,” said cardiologist and co-author of the study Dr. Neal L. Weintraub.

Weintraub is a practicing cardiologist who has patients with cardiovascular disease who continue to eat high-fat diets. He says he asks them to think twice: “Is this food worth your life?”

The story was printed in the journal Laboratory Investigation.

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