A series of studies carried out by the University at Buffalo in the US show that while a diet of high-calorie fast food can have an adverse effect on the arteries, supplementing that diet with antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C and E can nullify that effect.
The results of the research were presented at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association earlier this week
"A meal high in calories and fat caused an increase in inflammatory markers that lasted three to four hours," said Paresh Dandona, professor of medicine, head of the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences' Division of Endocrinology and the lead author of the studies.
"We think the influx of macronutrients may alter cell behaviour and that genes are activated to produce more powerful enzymes and mediators that are potentially more damaging to the lining of blood vessels. Obese persons may have an ongoing abnormality of the white blood cells and the lining of blood vessels."
These macronutrients are mostly derived from the food we eat - calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates and water, he said.
"On the other hand, we found that one way to render an 'unsafe' meal 'safe' is to include antioxidant vitamins," Dandona continued. "The pro-inflammatory effect of glucose is stopped if right at the outset you give vitamins E and C."
Dandona's team focused on nine participants in their study who were fed a 900-calorie breakfast consisting of an egg-and-ham sandwich and hash browns from a fast-food restaurant. Blood samples were taken before eating and at one, two and three hours after eating to determine the concentration of oxygen free radicals, thought to be the main cause of artheriosclerosis, or the 'clogging' of the arteries caused by damage to the blood vessel linings.
They found that the number of free radicals in the blood increased by 129 per cent, 175 per cent and 138 per cent respectively at the three sampling times, while the levels of several pro-inflammatory indicators also increased significantly at the same time as the levels of factors designed to help combat inflammation reduced.
They then carried out four additional studies which Dandona said further defined the inflammatory effects of glucose and fatty acids. These studies also showed that both sugar and fat caused a reduction in the ability of vessels to expand and contract in response to changes in blood flow, actions crucial for maintaining healthy blood pressure and blood flow to vital organs.
However, a further study carried out by the Buffalo team showed that when eight subjects were given 1,200 IU of vitamin E and 500 mg of vitamin C before a glucose challenge, the levels of free radicals and other pro-inflammatory markers did not increase at all, at one, two or three hours after the glucose intake.
Whether this will mean that vitamin-fortified hamburgers will soon be hitting the menus of fast food restaurants remains to be seen, but if the research is shown to be correct it could certainly spell good news for fast food addicts in an increasingly obese world.