Fats are the heart’s main source of fuel, and failing hearts can’t process or store fats, eventually causing cardiac muscles to starve.
Scientists have now shown that oleate, the primary fat found in olive oil, restored normal fat metabolism in rat hearts with signs of heart failure, while palmitate, a fat found primarily in processed foods, dairy products and meat, made the metabolic problems worse.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine isolated rat hearts in a solution that contained carbohydrates along with either oleate or palmitate. Some of the hearts were normal, while others had been surgically manipulated to show signs of failure. Then the scientists used sophisticated chemical labeling and analysis techniques to measure how the fats were metabolized. Oleate helped improve how the hearts contracted and pumped blood almost immediately, and also helped to normalize the expression of genes that encode fat-metabolism enzymes. Even in the control (normal) hearts, oleate improved the turnover of fats. By contrast, when they were exposed to palmitate, the hearts with signs of failure performed much worse in terms of all three metrics: fat metabolism, heart contraction and pumping, and gene expression profiles.
These findings are of course limited to an animal model that isn’t fully reflective of human disease, but they are still very exciting to the many researchers looking for ways to improve survival among people with heart failure. This study also underscores the importance of diet not just to prevent injury or disease, but to help heal any damage after it has occurred. (Source: Circulation, September 2014 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.011687)