Overweight people who have suffered a heart attack may live longer than healthy people because certain fats are programmed to guard the body against heart disease, new research has found.
The University of Oxford study suggests that body fat can act as a last line of defence against a heart attack and strokes by releasing anti-inflammatory chemicals.
The findings, to be presented at the British Cardiovascular Conference in Manchester, challenges conventional wisdom that body fat is detrimental to health. It could also explain why some people with an extreme Body Mass Index (BMI) often outlive those with a healthy BMI.
By studying cell tissue samples of patients that had heart surgery, scientists found a series of chemicals were released from certain body fats in the event of a heart attack or stroke, in response to warnings sent out by the heart and surrounding arteries.
Charalambos Antoniades, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at Oxford University, who led the study, said its findings would change how body fats were perceived.
“Fat has had a bad reputation but we are finally learning more about how and why certain types of it are essential for good heart health.
“While it must be said that the majority of fats are dangerous in the presence of a disease, there are some good chemicals that have health benefits.” He added that the results may even change how humans deal with fat in future. “We should not only be intent on losing weight. The next step is to develop treatment that can harness the health properties of fat.”
The study follows previous research that being overweight might not always be bad. In 2013 an analysis of nearly 100 studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, while a high level of obesity (BMI of 35 or more) was associated with greater risk of death from all causes, being mildly obese (BMI of 25 to 35) was associated with a lower risk.
But Dr Richard Vautrey of the British Medical Association warned: “There is a danger of looking at one element of body fats in isolation and reaching conclusions that challenge the assumption that there is any true substitute to a healthy diet and lifestyle.”