A high-protein diet might help you lose weight, but it can also up your risk of heart attack
By NCVC Staff | Published on Oct 11, 2023
Are you trying to shed those extra pounds or build lean muscle? Chances are, you’ve been advised to follow a high-protein diet. Protein is known as the building block for muscle, and numerous studies have highlighted its weight-loss benefits. However, recent research suggests that a high-protein diet may come with a risk of heart attack.
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The Surprising Link Between High-Protein Diets and Heart Health
A study conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine reveals that high-protein diets can contribute to artery-clogging plaque. The research, conducted on mice, discovered that these diets promote the development of unstable plaque, which is most likely to rupture and lead to blocked arteries. This, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease and potential heart attacks.
Senior author Babak Razani, an associate professor at the University, explains, “There are clear weight-loss benefits to high-protein diets, which has boosted their popularity in recent years. But animal studies and some large epidemiological studies in people have linked high dietary protein to cardiovascular problems. We decided to take a look at whether there is truly a causal link between high dietary protein and poorer cardiovascular health.”
The Study’s Findings on High-Protein Diets
To conduct the study, mice were fed a high-fat diet to induce atherosclerosis or plaque buildup in their arteries. Some mice were given a high-fat, high-protein diet, while others were given a high-fat, normal-protein diet for comparison.
Surprisingly, the mice on the high-fat, high-protein diet developed more severe atherosclerosis, with approximately 30% more plaque in their arteries, despite not gaining weight like the mice on the high-fat, normal-protein diet.
Razani elaborates on the study, stating, “To see if protein has an effect on cardiovascular health, we tripled the amount of protein that the mice receive in the high-fat, high-protein diet—keeping the fat constant. Protein went from 15% to 46% of calories for these mice.”
Understanding the Consequences
Plaque is a combination of fat, cholesterol, calcium deposits, and dead cells. Previous research has shown that immune cells called macrophages work to clean up plaque in the arteries. However, when the environment inside the plaque overwhelms these cells, they die, exacerbating the problem and contributing to plaque build-up and complexity.
Razani shares an important finding from the study, saying, “In mice on the high-protein diet, their plaques were a macrophage graveyard.” This study provides a deeper understanding of the impact of high protein by analyzing plaques in detail.
Striking the Right Balance
While protein is essential for a healthy diet, it is crucial to moderate your intake for better heart health. Consuming excessive protein can lead to health issues such as constipation and an increased risk of kidney damage. Remember, your overall well-being should not be sacrificed for the sake of achieving a toned physique.
Experts recommend keeping your protein intake to around 46 grams per day to maintain a healthy balance. By striking this balance, you are more likely to achieve your fitness goals while safeguarding your heart health.
So, whether you are on a weight loss journey or working towards building muscle, remember to prioritize both your physical appearance and your overall health. Be mindful of your protein intake and keep your heart strong and disease-free.