Study examines high sugar diet connection to heart disease

Photo of Sue MarshA Washington State University research project to understand how a poor diet might genetically change human heart function and contribute to cardiovascular disease has been funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Susan Marsh has found in preliminary experiments that a diet high in sugar and saturated fat altered the attachment of sugars to proteins in the muscle cells of the heart.

“We’re interested in the way proteins talk to each other within the cells because proteins determine how well cells function,” Marsh said. “We’ll be identifying which proteins have an altered sugar attachment, looking at whether this changes signaling between proteins and if this affects the way the proteins are transcribed by genes, which ultimately will change the way the heart will function.”

Marsh anticipates the findings will provide a better understanding of the way in which poor nutrition promotes cardiovascular disease.
Marsh is an assistant professor in the Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Program in the College of Pharmacy. Her research lab is in Spokane.
The so-called “Western” diet – high in fat and sugar – is partially responsible for the current obesity epidemic in society and is extremely bad for the heart, Marsh said.

“Obviously, as one of the grant reviewers pointed out, one good way to improve this is to just change your diet, but that’s not consistent with what’s happening in society now,” she said. “For example, breakfast is the most important meal of the day but it’s hard to find breakfast cereals that haven’t been sweetened.”
The project is funded for three years with a grant of $450,600.
(July 25, 2011)