Obesity can weaken heart's structure, research suggests

Obesity can drive hearts to fail and weaken their structure, study finds

  • Queen Mary University experts found excess fat directly causes heart failure 
  • Study of 31,000 people investigated why obesity increases the risk by 30%
  • Obese people were more likely to have weaker pumping chambers in their heart

Obesity can drastically weaken the heart’s structure and cause it to fail, according to a study.

Excess bodyfat itself — as opposed to fat-fueled circulatory problems — appears to be the driver, researchers claim. 

The research stemmed from an analysis of nearly 490,000 Britons.

It showed adults with a higher BMI — which was not specified — and a high waist-to-hip ratio had a 30 per cent greater risk of heart failure.

This remained the case even after accounting for other risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

A follow-up project, involving 31,000 adults from the same group, sought to discover exactly why. 

Cardiac scans of people with obese BMIs, defined as above 25, were compared to those of people in the healthy range.

Obese people were more likely to have thicker heart muscles, more signs of scarring and weaker pumping chambers.

These changes make it more difficult for the heart to effectively pump blood around the body and could lead to the development of heart failure, experts said.

Around 35million Britons are overweight or obese, with BMI scores higher than 25. A similar proportion — two-thirds of adults — are fat in the US.

Heart failure affects around 900,000 people in the UK, with 60,000 new cases each year. Heart and circulatory diseases cause a quarter of all deaths in Britain.

Obesity weakens the heart’s structure, causes scarring and drives the organ to fail, research led by Queen Mary University of London suggests

The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), was presented today at the British Cardiovascular Society conference in Manchester.

Queen Mary University of London researchers, in collaboration with academics from Southampton and Oxford, looked at the cardiac magnetic resonance scans of 31,107 adults in Britain.

CMR scans are used to diagnose and give information on various heart conditions.

Participants were chosen at random from a larger group of more than 490,000, who were aged between 40-70 and recruited between 2006 and 2010. 

They had their BMI and waist-to-hip ratio measured at the start of the study.

Experts called for further research to investigate the links between obesity and other changes to the heart.

Dr Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, from Queen Mary, who supervised the research, said: ‘We already know obesity increases the risk of heart and circulatory diseases that can go on to cause heart failure.

‘But now we have revealed obesity itself could be a driver of hearts starting to fail.

‘Further research could provide new insights into the biological mechanisms through which obesity leads to poorer heart health.’

Professor James Leiper, associate medical director at the BHF, said: ‘This research provides new evidence of the link between obesity and heart failure and forms the basis of further research to understand the mechanisms underpinning the connection between obesity and changes to the heart’s anatomy.’

Biodegradable gel could ‘repair damage caused by heart attack’ 

A new biodegradable gel has been developed to repair the damage caused by a heart attack.

Experts at the University of Manchester, backed by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), created the substance, which can be injected directly into the beating heart.

The gel works as a scaffold for injected cells to grow new tissue.

In the past, when cells have been injected into the heart to reduce the risk of heart failure, only 1 per cent have stayed in place and survived.

The new gel is made of amino acids called peptides which are the building blocks of proteins.

It behaves like a liquid when it is under stress as the peptides disassemble – which is an ideal state to inject it – and then the peptides work to reassemble, making it a solid.

This holds the cells in place as they graft onto the heart.

For the results to be successful, a good blood supply is vital for the injected cells to be able to develop into a new tissue.

To prove that the technology could work, researchers showed that the gel can support growth of normal heart muscle tissue.

When they added human cells that had been reprogrammed to become heart muscle cells into the gel, they were able to grow them in a dish for three weeks and the cells started to spontaneously beat.

They also tested the gel on healthy mice.

They injected a fluorescent tag with the gel into their hearts, and the results revealed that the gel stayed on the hearts for two weeks.

Echocardiograms (ultrasounds of the heart) and electrocardiograms (ECGs, which measure the electrical activity of the heart) on the mice confirmed the safety of the gel.

To gain more knowledge, researchers plan to test the gel after mice have a heart attack to see if they develop new muscle tissue.

The study has being presented at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference in Manchester.

Professor James Leiper, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘We’ve come so far in our ability to treat heart attacks and today more people than ever survive.

‘However, this also means that more people are surviving with damaged hearts and are at risk of developing heart failure.

‘This new injectable technology harnesses the natural properties of peptides to potentially solve one of the problems that has hindered this type of therapy for years.

‘If the benefits are replicated in further research and then in patients, these gels could become a significant component of future treatments to repair the damage caused by heart attacks.’

Katharine King, from the University of Manchester, who led the research, said: ‘The heart has a very limited ability to repair any damage it sustains.

‘Our research has been looking for ways to overcome this so we can keep the heart in a healthier place for longer.

‘While it’s still early days, the potential this new technology has in helping to repair failing hearts after a heart attack is huge.

‘We’re confident that this gel will be an effective option for future cell-based therapies to help the damaged heart to regenerate.’

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