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What does poor diet do to our blood vessels?

Featured Publication, HI-MAG,

Through the course of the last several decades, the rate of obesity has progressively increased and is now one of the leading causes of death worldwide – according to the World Health Organization (WHO) 650 million adults are classified as obese. The WHO defines obesity as the accumulation of excessive fat in the body creating risks for a healthy life. The main causes: changing diets and lifestyles. But what are bad eating habits doing to our blood vessels? A research team led by Bilal Sheikh from the Helmholtz Institute for Metabolic, Obesity and Vascular Research (HI-MAG) of Helmholtz Munich and the Medical Faculty of the University of Leipzig investigated how obesity impacts blood vessels structure at a molecular level.

The research team found out that metabolic disease effects blood vessels in different organs of our body in a unique way. For instance, blood vessels in the liver and fat tissue struggle to process the excess lipids, kidney vessels develop metabolic dysfunction, lung vessels become highly inflammatory, and transport across the brain vessels is defective. “As vascular dysfunction drives all major pathologies from heart failure, to atherosclerosis and neurodegeneration, our research shows how bad eating habits molecularly promote the development of diverse diseases” explains Dr. Olga Bondareva from HI-MAG, the first author of the study.

The researchers then asked whether a healthy diet could reduce the disease-causing molecular signatures induced by a bad diet. Their results show that a healthy diet can indeed improve the molecular health of blood vessels, however, only partially. For instance, the blood vessels in the liver recovered nearly completely, but blood vessels in the kidneys retained the disease signature, despite a healthy diet and significant weight loss. This means that some of our blood vessels can develop a “memory” of metabolic disease, which is difficult to reverse.

Together, this research provides us with a comprehensive understanding of how a bad diet effects our blood vessels and encourages us to eat healthy for the sake of our blood vessels. 


Original publication

Bondareva et al. (2022): Single-cell profiling of vascular endothelial cells reveals progressive organ-specific vulnerabilities during obesity. Nature Metabolism. DOI: 10.1038/s42255-022-00674-x

Funding information
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) project grants 457240345 (awarded to B.N.S.) and SFB1052 (project number 209933838, subprojects B1 to M.B. and B4 to N.K.) as well as funding from the free-state of Saxony and Helmholtz Munich.