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Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 17:11 GMT
Heavy meals 'increase heart risk'
Heavy food may have health consequences
The risk of having a heart attack may be increased by eating a very heavy meal, say researchers.

US researchers found that the risk of having a heart attack rose by about four times for the first two hours after eating an unusually heavy meal.

We hope that the results of a our study will help convince people to be more cautious about eating exceptionally heavy meals

Dr Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston
The researchers, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, say their finding indicates that eating a heavy meal may act as a trigger for heart attack in much the same way as extreme physical exertion and outbursts of anger.

Lead researcher Dr Francisco Lopez-Jimenez said: "We hope that the results of a our study will help convince people to be more cautious about eating exceptionally heavy meals, especially for people who have coronary heart artery disease or have suffered a previous heart attack."

The researchers questioned 1,986 patients about the meals they had eaten just prior to their heart attacks

Of these, 158 had consumed a heavy meal within 26 hours, and 25 had eaten a big meal during a two-hour period preceding the attacks.

The time of day when the meal was eaten had no apparent effect.

Possible explanations

There are several ways that a heavy meal can adversely affect the heart.

Eating and digesting food releases many hormones into the bloodstream.

Those substances increase heart rate and blood pressure, and may increase the substances that help form clots.

A heart attack could happen at any time - including when the person is at rest

British Heart Foundation
The temporary rise in blood pressure increases the need for oxygen and creates and extra burden on the heart.

High blood pressure may also rupture cholesterol plaques in the arterial wall, triggering the formation of a clot that can block a blood vessel, triggering a heart attack or stroke.

Another possibility is that a high-fat meal impairs the function of the endothelium, the inner lining of the arteries by releasing fatty acids and other fats into the bloodstream.

The rise in insulin, a substance that helps the body burn energy, after a large meal may also affect the inner lining of the blood vessels that lead to the heart.

An increase in insulin levels in the blood decreases the normal relaxation of the coronary arteries.

A spokeswoman for the British Heart Foundation said: "The chest pain associated with angina could be brought on following a heavy meal as well as after unaccustomed, vigorous activity.

"For this reason people with coronary heart disease are encouraged not to carry out exercise or other strenuous activities straight after a meal.

"However, a heart attack could happen at any time - including when the person is at rest."

The spokeswoman said the study emphasised how important it was to recognise the many symptoms of a heart attack so that, should one occur, medical assistance can be called quickly so that the patient has the best chance of a full recovery.

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