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Fatty splurge may reduce heart risk

Bingeing on fatty food may protect the victims of heart attacks, a study suggests.

The surprising findings show that a short saturated fat "splurge" can actually reduce damage to the heart.

Scientists who conducted the research in mice are still trying to explain the effect.

But they believe it could have important implications for human health, possibly leading to a way to "pre-treat" people at high risk of heart attacks.

Previous studies have found that certain patients with high cholesterol levels are more likely survive heart attacks than those with lower levels.

Yet the idea that fatty food can reduce injury from heart attacks is completely at odds with general thinking about diet and heart health.

Diets laden with saturated fat are one of the main risk factors for high levels of artery-clogging cholesterol and heart disease.

Searching for answers, US scientists spent six weeks feeding mice a diet in which 60pc of calories were derived from saturated fat.

Another group of mice were fed the same diet for two weeks or less, and a third received a normal grain and vegetable-based diet.

Heart attacks were then artificially induced in all the mice.

Lead researcher Lauren Haar, a Phd student at the University of Cincinnati, said: "Our results showed that injury in mice fed a high-fat diet acutely (two weeks or less) was reduced by 70pc when compared to the groups fed on a high-fat diet for six weeks or fed on a control grain and vegetable based diet."

Animals fed a high-fat diet for just 24 hours and then returned to a normal diet a day before a heart attack experienced "prolonged" protection against injury.

The findings were presented today at the 2011 Experimental Biology meeting in Washington DC.

Ms Haar said further research was trying to uncover the biological pathways involved.

She added: "This could mean great things for patient care if we can find the mechanisms that come into play to cause this cardioprotection.

"This also may show that, while it's important to eat right, not all 'bad' foods - like red meat - should be avoided all of the time. This could change the way we view nutrition and dietary recommendations."

@Press Association