Olive oil may help diseased heart muscle process and use fuel

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In Australia, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death, with 43,946 deaths attributed to CVD in Australia in 2012. Despite improvements over the last few decades, it remains one of the biggest health burdens on the Australian economy.

Oleate, a common dietary fat found in olive oil, has been shown to restore proper metabolism of fuel in heart cells in an animal model of heart failure.

A recent study, conducted by Lewandowski and colleagues at the University of Illinois, assessed how healthy and failing hearts in rats responded to a supply of either oleate or palmitate, a fat common in the Western diet and found in dairy products, animal fats and palm oil.

Findings

When the failing rat hearts were perfused with oleate, they showed an instant improvement in how the hearts contracted and pumped blood. In addition, the metabolism of fats within the cardiac cells of these hearts became normalised. In contrast, when the researchers perfused the diseased rat hearts with palmitate, fat metabolism became imbalanced and cells struggled to access fuel. There was also a rise in toxic fatty by-products, another consequence of the deregulated fat metabolism. The oleate also increased the activation of several genes for enzymes that metabolise fat.

The finding that the researchers were able to restore beneficial gene expression, as well balance fat metabolism simply by supplying hearts with a common dietary fat (oleate) is a very promising finding indeed.

What we can take from these findings

These findings lend more support to the idea that consuming healthy fats such as those in olive oil, can have a significantly positive effect on cardiac health – even after disease has begun.