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Study shows why cholesterol damages arteries

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Professor Latz has recently been recruited by the University of Bonn after working ten years in basic research in the United States. Here, he heads the new Institute for Innate Immunity (Institut für Angeborene Immunität), which has a research focus on the immune mechanisms that cause inflammatory reactions. The innate immune system forms part of the body's own defence mechanism and is able to respond rapidly and directly to a number of alarm signals that appear in the tissue environment. These triggers not only include viruses, bacteria and fungi but also certain crystals and other substances that occur during infections of in stress situations. The strength of the innate immune system is that it can respond very quickly to situations that are of danger to the host. The problem, however, is that it can also overshoot the mark. This type of overreaction is also seen in the case of pneumoconioses such as the black lung, a disease which frequently affects miners. In these lung diseases, a chronic inflammatory reaction is triggered by inhaled crystals made of silicates or asbestos. The molecular mechanisms of crystal recognition are similar to those triggered by cholesterol crystals in blood vessels.

Starting point for developing new drugs

There is still a piece of the jigsaw puzzle missing which researchers need to complete the overall picture. “We don't know precisely how the cholesterol crystals activate the inflammasome”, says Professor Latz. The findings of this study however, offer some starting points for developing new drug therapies. At present, statins are widely used in therapy. Statins reduce the synthesis of endogenous – i.e. the body's self-produced cholesterol and diminish the risk of heart attack or stroke, but they cannot inhibit the absorption of cholesterol from ones diet.

Estimates by the World Health Organization put the number of people now dying from cardiovascular diseases at almost 17 million per year. This means that one in four deaths worldwide is caused by atherosclerosis.

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Omega 3s Show Health Benefits for Non-Fish Eaters

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Increased intakes of omega-3 fatty acids may decrease the risk of heart disease and heart attack in people with low fish intakes, says a new study from The Netherlands. Daily intakes of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) of about 240 milligrams was associated with a 50 per cent reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), compared with intakes of about 40 milligrams, according to findings published in the Journal of Nutrition. Furthermore, the highest average intake of DHA and EPA was associated with a 38 per cent reduction in the heart attack, said researchers from Wageningen University following a study with over 21,000 people with low fish intakes.

The heart health benefits of consuming oily fish, and the omega-3 fatty acids they contain, are well-documented, being first reported in the early 1970s by Jorn Dyerberg and his co-workers in The Lancet and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. To date, the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have been linked to improvements in blood lipid levels, a reduced tendency of thrombosis, blood pressure and heart rate improvements, and improved vascular function.

Omega-3 fatty acids, most notably DHA and EPA, have been linked to a wide-range of health benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and certain cancers, good development of a baby during pregnancy, joint health, and improved behaviour and mood.

Study details

Intakes of EPA plus DHA, and fish were assessed in 21,342 people aged between 20 and 65. Fish intakes ranged from 1.1 to 17.3 grams per day. Over the course of an average of 11.3 years, the researchers documented 647 deaths, of which 82 were linked to coronary heart disease, with 64 of these being heart attack.

According to the results, the highest average intake of EPA plus DHA (234 milligrams per day) was associated with a 51 per cent reduction in the risk of fatal CHD, compared to the lowest average intake (40 mg per day).

“In conclusion, in populations with a low fish consumption, EPA+DHA and fish may lower fatal CHD and [heart attack] risk in a dose-responsive manner,” wrote the researchers.

Source: Journal of Nutrition
“Marine (n-3) Fatty Acids, Fish Consumption, and the 10-Year Risk of Fatal and Nonfatal Coronary Heart Disease in a Large Population of Dutch Adults with a Low Fish Intake”
Authors: J. de Goede, J.M. Geleijnse, J.M. A. Boer, D. Kromhout, W. M.M. Verschuren

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