A SIMPLE food supplement may hold the key to preventing heart attacks, Dublin-based researchers have discovered. UCD scientists have found a dietary supplement can effectively clear blocked arteries in a fortnight.
Dr Orina Belton and PhD student Sinead Toomey have shown that if mice with atherosclerosis are given conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in amounts equivalent to one per cent of their diet, the plaques in their arteries disappear after just two weeks.
Atherosclerosis or blocked arteries, is the main cause of heart attack and stroke, and accounts for 50 per cent of deaths in Western societies.
CLA is an essential fatty acid commonly taken in supplement form as a weight-loss aid. It occurs naturally in dairy products and beef, but not in significant enough quantities to reduce plaque in the arteries. In fact, the saturated fats in these foods can do the reverse and contribute to blocked arteries.
Dr Belton's study found that CLA works by encouraging cells that accumulate in the plaques to self-destruct. The results suggest that atherosclerosis may soon be treated with a simple "functional food" supplement.
Dr Belton said: "CLA is going to be like fish oils in a few years. Everyone will be taking it. Other studies have found it has anti-cancer activity and a positive effect on diabetes."
There are two main chemical forms of CLA, isomers c9-t11 and t10-c12. The type used in Dr Belton's research was an 80 per cent pure concentration of 9-11. The CLA in health food shops is a blend of different forms of CLA but Dr Belton feels patients concerned about blocked arteries should go ahead and take the supplements that are now available.
She said: "We haven't yet gone into the side effects but since it is found naturally, I wouldn't expect we will find any." But the Health Research Board, who funded the study, has advised caution. A spokesman said: "Each isomer seems to have different metabolic effects and the picture is complicated by contradictory findings. The supplements sold in health stores are usually an unspecified mix and people with diabetes should use them with caution or under monitoring."