Eating a high-protein diet can cause severe damage to your arteries, latest evidence demonstrates.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have found that a high protein intake can increase your risk of developing atherosclerosis – a condition where your arteries become narrowed, making it difficult for blood to flow through them.

A high protein intake can activate immune cells that contribute to arterial plaque formation.

People who eat more than 22% of their dietary calories from protein are more at risk of atherosclerotic plaque formation.

According to the study, the amino acid leucine significantly drives the pathological pathways linked to atherosclerosis, otherwise known as stiff, hardened arteries.

First author Dr Babak Razani said: “Our study shows that dialling up your protein intake in pursuit of better metabolic health is not a panacea. You could be doing real damage to your arteries.

“Our hope is that this research starts a conversation about ways of modifying diets in a precise manner that can influence body function at a molecular level and dampen disease risks.”

Current data has shown that nearly 25% of the American population consumes a quarter of their daily calories from protein, predominantly animal protein.

During the study, the team of academics conducted several tests on cells from mice and humans.

Co-author Bettina Mittendorfer said: “We have shown in our mechanistic studies that amino acids, which are really the building blocks of the protein, can trigger disease through specific signalling mechanisms and then also alter the metabolism of these cells.

“For instance, small immune cells in the vasculature called macrophages can trigger the development of atherosclerosis.”

The findings have revealed that eating more than 22% of daily dietary calories through protein can have a negative impact on macrophages that clear out cellular debris.

If macrophages are not working correctly, cells will then build up inside the vessel walls, which will damage arteries over time.

The study has reported that leucine – an amino acid enriched in animal-derived foods like beef, eggs and milk – is responsible for abnormal macrophage activation and atherosclerosis risk.

Dr Razani said: “Perhaps blindly increasing protein load is wrong. Instead, it’s important to look at the diet as a whole and suggest balanced meals that won’t inadvertently exacerbate cardiovascular conditions, especially in people at risk of heart disease and vessel disorders.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Metabolism.

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