Eating too much sugar may increase heart failure risk

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In an alarming revelation, researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine have provided evidence suggesting that excess sugars could be a cause of heart failure, rather than just a symptom or marker.

The Link Between Sugars and Heart Failure

The team discovered that elevated levels of a simple sugar known as O-GlcNAc (O-GlcNAcylation) in the heart muscle cells could increase the risk of heart failure.

However, when these levels were lowered, the risk of death also reduced, and heart function returned to normal.

This significant discovery provides a potential new therapeutic avenue to prevent or halt the progression of heart failure, a condition that currently affects an estimated 6.2 million Americans.

The Impact of Heart Failure

Heart failure is a progressive disorder where the heart struggles and eventually fails to pump sufficient blood and oxygen to support the body’s organs.

This condition often develops due to other health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

Over time, scientists and clinicians have noted that cells in overstressed hearts exhibit high levels of O-GlcNAc.

This simple sugar modifies thousands of proteins within cells, and previous studies have shown that proteins in the cells of heart failure patients have more O-GlcNAc than usual.

The Study Design and Findings

In this study, the researchers genetically engineered mice with higher than usual levels of O-GlcNAc in heart muscle cells.

These animals developed severe heart failure, with their hearts starting to weaken and pump less blood at only six weeks old.

By 25 weeks of age, over half of these mice had died, while none of the control animals with normal O-GlcNAc levels had died.

In contrast, animals with lower than usual O-GlcNAc levels in their heart cells remained healthy and showed no signs of heart failure.

More encouragingly, the researchers found that high levels of O-GlcNAc could be reversed to help prevent end-stage heart failure.

When the O-GlcNAc in their heart cells was reduced, the mice no longer developed heart failure or died prematurely.

A New Therapeutic Pathway

The findings indicate that drugs targeting the O-GlcNAc pathway could help prevent heart failure. Existing heart failure therapies—like beta-blockers, diuretics, and ACE inhibitors—mainly target a few molecular pathways.

The O-GlcNAc pathway represents a completely new target that has not been explored with therapeutics before, which is an exciting development.

Conclusion and Further Reading

If you’re interested in heart health, consider reading other studies about reducing heart disease risk by eating eggs and how herbal supplements could potentially harm your heart rhythm.

For more general health information, recent studies have also suggested that olive oil may help prolong your life, and vitamin D could lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.

The research, led by Priya Umapathi and colleagues, offers a novel perspective on heart failure’s potential causes and treatment. The study was published in the journal Circulation.

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