A new study shows that body fat can save individuals from heart disease, contrary to what most people think. Scientist have long been confused as to why overweight people have greater chances of surviving after a heart attack than those whose Body Mass Index (BMI) are within normal limits - a term known as the "obesity paradox."

The study sponsored by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) was conducted by analyzing the tissues of patients who are undergoing heart surgery. The research team led by Professor Charalambos Antoniades, British Heart Foundation research fellow and Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Oxford discovered that the fat surrounding the damaged blood vessels due to primary heart disease secretes substances that work as a catalyst for preventing atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the build-up of fats as a result of oxidative stress, which is associated with the initial mechanisms of coronary heart disease. The substances secreted have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that prevent vessel inflammation and oxidative stress respectively.

"Fat has a bad reputation but we're learning more and more about how and why certain types of fat in the body are actually essential for good heart health," Antoniades says. "These findings are an important step towards a treatment that ensures this fat stays on-side throughout our lives to help prevent heart disease."

The research team, whose study will be presented at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference in Manchester, are currently investigating about how the beneficial processes can be halted when bad fat is involved, such as in the case of type 2 diabetes. But the team is looking at formulating treatment methods to alter these mechanisms so that fat only has positive effects. Part of their further studies and treatment development initiative is the investigation of fat behaviour inside the body through a high resolution computerized tomography (CT) scan. The success of this project will help medical practitioners diagnose heart diseases during its early phases and subsequently prescribe prophylactic treatments if necessary.

"There's still a huge amount we don't know about how heart disease develops and what processes in the body can help prevent it from happening," says Jeremy Pearson, professor and associate medical director at the BHF. "This high quality research carried out in people and using human tissue has provided new perspectives on the roles of fat in heart disease and has implications for future treatment."

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