Unsaturated fats fighting heart disease

The answer to protecting yourself from heart disease could be sitting in your kitchen cupboard. What used to be considered a threat to good health – FAT – just might be a core part of a heart healthy diet.

New findings by St. Michael’s scientists are unveiling the positive effects of unsaturated fat such as olive and canola oils. Dr. Heyu Ni and his team at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science have discovered that after eating a meal rich in unsaturated fat, we experience a spike in ApoA-IV, a plasma protein found in the blood.

The higher levels of ApoA-IV in our blood, the lower the rates of cardiovascular disease, studies suggest.

This is the first study to link ApoA-IV with platelets and thrombosis. It explains why higher levels of ApoA-IV can slow down plaque build-up in blood vessels, known as atherosclerosis. — Dr. Heyu Ni, Platform Director of the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Sciences at St. Michael's Hospital, Scientist of the Canadian Blood Services Centre for Innovation

Dr. Ni’s team has discovered that elevated levels of ApoA-VI in the blood stream stop platelets from binding. It’s the build-up of platelet clusters which can restrict blood flow and lead to thrombosis -- the most common cause of death worldwide. Platelets also contribute to the development of plaque -- a fatty, waxy substance that builds up inside arteries. Over time, plaque can lead to heart attack and stroke.

“This is the first study to link ApoA-IV with platelets and thrombosis,” says Dr. Ni. “It explains why higher levels of ApoA-IV can slow down plaque build-up in blood vessels, known as atherosclerosis.”

Dr. Ni’s research also revealed ApoA-IV decreases inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can cause your immune system to attack healthy tissue. Dr. Ni’s findings could be potentially applied to therapies for autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Fat used to be considered a dietary enemy but findings like this are reinforcing the claim that foods rich in unsaturated fat—like the much-lauded Mediterranean diet – can be a driver of good health.