High-Fat Diet Tied to Atherosclerosis Risk

A high-fat diet can lead to dysfunction of red blood cells (RBC), which can, in turn, lead to cardiovascular disease, according to a recent study.

Previous research has linked the effects of a high-fat diet on white blood cells to insulin resistance and atherosclerosis, but little evidence of an effect on red blood cells has been discovered.

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"Evidence is emerging that red blood cells play an important regulatory role in the development of atherosclerosis, binding pro-inflammatory proteins that cause dysfunction in the inner lining of the blood vessel wall—the endothelium” researchers explained.

“Diets high in saturated fat have long been associated with endothelial dysfunction, the precursor to atherosclerosis, but to our knowledge, the effects of high-fat diet on red blood cells have not been rigorously examined.”

To further examine the issue, researchers fed animal models a 60% high-fat diet for 12 weeks. Overall, they observed an increase in cholesterol found within red blood cells of the animals, promoting inflammatory reactions. They also observed an increase in key proteins that stimulate white blood cells bound to red blood cells, called macrophages.

Researchers also noted a 3-fold increase in the uptake of red blood cells by the spleens of healthy animals injected with red blood cells of the high-fat diet animals.

"All of these findings show that the dysfunction of red blood cells, corresponding with dysfunction of the lining of blood vessels, occurs very early in diet-induced obesity and may play a part in the formation of atherosclerosis,“ they concluded.

—Michael Potts

1. Unruh D, Srinivasan R, Benson T, et al. Red blood cell dysfunction induced by high-fat diet. Circulation. 2015; 132: 1898-1908.
2. University of Cincinnati. Impact of high-fat diet on red blood cells may cause cardiovascular disease [press release]. November 16, 2015.