Food & Drink

Junk food’s immediate impact on your cells

SLIPPING out of your diet into a junk food rut has a near-immediate impact on blood vessels at the cellular level, alarming new research found.

Eating burgers, pizzas and sausage rolls over a short period can trigger hardening of the arteries – by rapidly changing their structure, warn scientists.

The condition, known as atherosclerosis, is the main cause of heart attacks and strokes.

It suggests processed products are more harmful to health than feared.

Experiments on mice and lab grown human cells found two types of ‘bad’ cholesterol were the culprits.

These are LDL (low density lipoprotein) and the less commonly known oxidised LDL – a form produced by damaging chemicals called free radicals.

The rodents were fed either a normal well balanced diet or a ‘western’ alternative mirroring levels of fat, protein and carbohydrate found on a typical fast food menu.

Those consuming the latter quickly developed stiffer arteries – down to the layer of endothelial cells in the outer wall of the blood vessels.

In the first study of its kind the US team measured the LDLs and oxidised LDLs – and then applied the same concentrations to the cultured human endothelial cells.

State-of-the-art scanning techniques showed physiological levels of both caused the cell membrane to stiffen and thicken compared to those not given lipoproteins.

When each was added individually tension also increased – which was amplified in combination.

Co-author Dr Manuela Ayee, of the University of Illinois, said: ‘To our surprise, a very small amount of oxidized LDL dramatically changes the structure of the cell membrane for the worse.’

The results suggest changes in blood fats through eating the wrong foods can fundamentally reduce the quality of artery walls. 

‘We think the changes at the cell membrane level may allow the processes involved in atherosclerosis to begin,’ Dr Ayee added.

In atherosclerosis, arteries get thicker and stiffer – which can lead to heart disease and stroke.

The study which is being presented at a Biophysical Society meeting in Baltimore sheds fresh light on how cholesterol causes this.

The tiny fat molecule circulates in our blood stream fueled by lipoproteins. High quantities of LDLs is a key risk factor for hardening of the arteries.

Oxidized LDLs are a variant believed to contribute to the build up of plaques that can lead to clots – blocking off blood supply to the heart and brain.

Dr Ayee and colleague Dr Irena Levitan wanted to know if it is one, or both, of these LDLs that is the main problem.

Cholesterol is not all bad. It is an essential fat that cells need to make membranes and steroid hormones.

When it is transported through our bodies, it needs a lipoprotein carrier. LDLs carry cholesterol away from the liver to cells.

‘Good’ cholesterol, or HDL (high density lipoproteins), return it to the liver. LDL has long been believed to be the cause of atherosclerosis.

The latest finding backs up recent evidence suggesting oxidised LDL is also a key player.

Eating too many burgers, pizzas, biscuits and cakes can knock decades off your life, according to new research.

Last month a study of almost 45,000 middle-aged people found deaths from heart disease, cancer and other illnesses was linked to consumption of burgers, pizzas, biscuits and cakes.

The French team said eating too much ‘ultra processed food’ can knock decades off a person’s life.

This includes fries, white bread, ready meals, sausages, sugary cereals, soda – any product involving an industrial procedure. 

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