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Antioxidants block damage to arteries caused by high fat meals

High fat meals cause damage to artery linings, which may contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. New research suggests that taking the antioxidant vitamins C and E before a meal may help to prevent this damage.

The study which was carried out at the University of Maryland School of Medicine involved 13 women and 7 men with normal blood cholesterol levels. Once a week for three weeks, the subjects ate either a high fat meal, a low fat meal, a high fat meal after taking 1000 mg of vitamin C and 800 IU of vitamin E or a low fat meal after taking the antioxidants.

Before and after the meals the researchers measured blood fat and cholesterol levels, blood pressure and heart rate in the subjects. They also used ultrasound to measure the dilation of the brachial artery (in the arm) after release of a tourniquet which had been applied for five minutes. If the artery lining is functioning normally it releases nitric oxide which causes dilation.

The results showed that the high fat meal decreased artery lining function for up to four hours afterwards whereas the low fat meal did not. This is probably due to oxidative stress caused by an accumulation of triglyceride rich lipoproteins (blood fats). The antioxidant vitamins prevented this decrease in artery lining function.

The authors of the study, which was published in Journal of the American Medical Association feel that it supports the use of a low fat diet with appropriate vitamin administration to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

JAMA 1997;278:1682-1686