Researchers Identify Cause of Heart Failure in Individuals With Obesity

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The finding paves way for new treatments.

A common protein associated with the brain has been found to accumulate in the heart cells of obese individuals, a study has found.

The unexpected discovery was made when researchers from Australia’s Deakin University examined the effects of amyloid beta in mice and found that it directly affected the heart’s function.

“We looked at both lean mice and mice that were fed a high-fat diet that results in obesity, and it was clear that obese mice had much higher levels of amyloid beta in their blood,” said Sean McGee, Professor of Medical Biology at Deakin’s School of Medicine and the Institute for Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Translation (IMPACT).
Amyloid beta accumulates in the brain and has previously been implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, a common form of dementia associated with plaques and tangles in the brain. Additionally, the study showed that amyloid beta is secreted from fat tissue into the bloodstream.

Mr. McGee said that his team of researchers then wanted to determine whether amyloid beta caused heart disease, so they exposed normal lean mice to amyloid beta and examined their heart function and metabolism.

The researchers found that the protein induced heart disease, just like obesity.

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“We observed that amyloid beta accumulated in the mitochondria of the heart—the powerhouses of the cell that generate energy—and prevented energy generation in heart cells,” Mr. McGee said.

“Because the heart uses so much energy to pump blood, this is sufficient to cause heart disease.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that amyloid beta has been implicated in a disease that is not Alzheimer’s. To this point, it was thought that the negative effects of amyloid beta were restricted to the brain.”

Mr. McGee said the discovery went beyond explaining the causes and identified a possible approach to treating obesity-related heart failure.

Obesity-induced heart disease affects up to 10 percent of the population in certain age groups and is considered an untreatable condition. Additionally, 75 percent of people with the condition don’t survive more than five years beyond diagnosis.

Potential to Repurpose Alzheimer’s Disease Drugs to Treat Heart Failure

Mr. McGee said there are numerous safety-tested therapies and drugs on the market that have been developed to block the effects of amyloid beta, but many have failed to effectively treat Alzheimer’s Disease for various reasons.

Yet, new research published by West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) on Jan. 11 has shown that pairing focused ultrasound in combination with antibody therapies accelerates the removal of amyloid-beta plaques from the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

“So we treated obese mice with one of these developmental Alzheimer’s Disease drugs, and confirmed that it did indeed prevent the progression of cardiac disease,” he said.

“This tells us these amyloid beta-blocking drugs that have been developed for Alzheimer’s Disease could be immediately repurposed for obesity-induced heart disease,” he said, adding that it would be possible to fast-track the drug development process by 10 years.

Going to the Root of the Issue

While scientists research ways to treat “obesity-induced heart disease” with medications and therapies, reducing the risk of heart disease can be managed through diet and exercise.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing chronic diseases, including heart attacks and strokes, and is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.

Additionally, excess body fat can contribute to the development of risk factors, such as rising levels of blood pressure, abnormal blood lipids, and type 2 diabetes development risk.

Adults with a body mass index (BMI) (kg/m2) of 25–29 are considered to be overweight but not obese, while a BMI of 30 or over is classified as obese.

The Heart Foundation recommends Australians consume a diet naturally low in unhealthy fats, salt, and added sugar, and rich in wholegrains, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.

Additionally, the foundation recommends at least 30 minutes of daily moderate-intensity physical activity, such as walking, swimming, running, or jogging.

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