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New Biomarker for Heart Failure

Posted Nov 22 2008 7:00am

Not just an indicator of a long belts

For a while now, scientists have been examining the link between body fat and cardiovascular disease. Back in 2005, researchers from two Texas universities found that human fat cells produce a protein called C-reactive protein (CRP) with an interesting property – the tendency to cause the type of inflammation that leads to heart failure. A direct link between being fat and getting heart attacks had finally been established, corroborating years of general intuition suggesting that fat people seemed to have more heart attacks.

But the CRP didn’t just generate in a vacuum. Scientists discovered the role of CRP by examining discarded body fat from plastic surgery patients in a controlled setting. Fat cells were isolated and then examined under various conditions. They hoped to understand just what was causing the fat cells to produce CRP. Soon, it became evident that there was indeed another step, a middle man between the body fat and production of the inflammatory protein. That intermediary was resistin, a hormone long associated with insulin resistance and diabetes. When the fat cells were bombarded with resistin, the CRP production went into overdrive. Unfortunately, however, resistin is a naturally occurring hormone in humans. In fact, resistin is produced by body fat, meaning excess body fat almost certainly results in heightened levels of CRP.

Worse still, this month scientists concluded that resistin itself is a more accurate predictor of heart failure than CRP. As was observed in a recent Health Aging and Body Composition study, for every 10 nanograms per milliliter increase in resistin levels in blood, a person’s chance of suffering early onset heart failure increased 38 percent. This suggests that its contribution to cardiovascular disease isn’t just in the production of the inflammatory protein, but that something much more insidious is at play here. If resistin only created CRP, their respective abilities to predict the early onset of heart failure would be identical.

Now, just what else does resistin do to contribute to heart failure? Scientists aren’t sure, but they think it has something to do with inflammation and insulin resistance, and some recent lab studies have shown that resistin decreases the ability of a rat’s heart to contract. They are sure about its ability to predict heart failure, though, and this may be the biggest benefit of all. If resistin proves to be an accurate, early predictor, preventive steps (read, the administration of prescription drugs) can be taken before the onset of disease.

This new study further highlights the profound importance of watching your weight. Unfortunately, in a country where “fat and fit” passes for conventional health wisdom and “good carbs” form the bulk of most nutritionist-recommended dietary plans, we expect people to rely on Big Pharma for their resistin resistance. It’s sad, but in light of this new study, “fat but fit” isn’t just a feel-good enabler’s slogan for the obese (you can certainly be fit and still a little overweight, but the health issues associated with obesity are completely undeniable); it is potentially dangerous propaganda that actively promotes an unhealthy lifestyle. Being fat simply isn’t advantageous to humans – evolutionarily, biologically, or genetically. It leads, directly and indirectly, to the diminishment of a person’s ability to survive and, in many cases, to live a happy life. It increases the incidence of diabetes and it impacts the health care costs of everyone. And now we have further evidence it can lead directly to heart failure. But I’m preaching to the choir here…

Thoughts? Questions? Hit us up in the comment boards!

dotbenjamin Flickr Photo (CC)
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