Fast food breakfast may inflame blood vessels

May 19, 2004 in Heart Health, Nutrition Topics in the News

Fast food breakfast may inflame blood vessels

Downing a big fast-food breakfast may spur a temporary but large inflammatory response in the blood vessels, a small study suggests.

Researchers say that while an occasional indulgence in such high-fat, high-carbohydrate fare probably poses no concern, the new findings suggest that making it a regular routine could lead to chronic blood vessel inflammation and complications, such as heart attack and stroke.

The study included nine healthy, normal-weight adults who were fed a breakfast of one Egg McMuffin, a Sausage McMuffin and two servings of hash browns from McDonald's. The meal weighed in at 910 calories, 81 grams of carbohydrates, 51 grams of fat and 32 grams of protein.

While the hearty breakfast may be on the supersize side, researchers from the State University of New York at Buffalo said it reflects what many Americans order up at fast-food restaurants.

The normal metabolic response to eating involves some inflammation and the production of molecules called oxygen free radicals. Any heavy meal, compared with water, will generate a much greater inflammatory response.

However, additional research suggests that it's not the size, but the content of the breakfast that may be the problem when it comes to inflammation in the blood vessels.

The study found that 900 calories' worth of an American Heart Association (AHA)-endorsed breakfast high in fruit and fibre did not produce the inflammatory responses seen with the fast-food breakfast. There may be something about the metabolism of fat, for example, that spurs significant inflammation, according to the researcher.

Past studies have found that both pure glucose (sugar) and fat trigger greater inflammatory responses than protein does. The AHA-based breakfast, while high in carbohydrates, contains complex, fibre-rich carbs, as well as antioxidant vitamins that may ward off inflammation.

For the new study, the researchers gave nine adults the fast-food breakfast and another eight a glass of water after an overnight fast. They took blood samples before the meal or drink, then again one, two and three hours afterward. The blood samples showed that in the fast-food diners, markers of inflammation and free-radical production rose and remained high for hours after the meal.

Chronic inflammation is key in the development of the artery disease atherosclerosis, a hardening and narrowing of the arteries that can lead to heart attack and stroke. The concern is that, over time, repeated inflammatory responses like those seen in the study could lead to chronic inflammation in the blood vessels.

The researchers advice to fast-food fans is to "eat moderately." And to include more fruit and fibre.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.