Heavy Meals May Trigger Heart Attacks

N E W   O R L E A N S, Nov. 14, 2000 -- Eating an unusually heavymeal does not just add calories, it also might trigger a heartattack, especially in people who already have heart disease,researchers said in a study released today.

The study found heart attack risk jumped four times in thetwo hours after a large meal.

“A very large meal may start the whole process” of a heartattack, said Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a cardiologist atBrigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Heart Patients Most At Risk

Eating heavy meals would be most dangerous for people whoalready have heart disease because their overall risk is higherfrom the start, Lopez-Jimenez said.

Large meals could be about as risky as sexual intercourseor other sudden triggers for heart attacks, he said.

Anger, Sex Also Triggers

“Overeating should be considered as a heart attack trigger,much in the same way as extreme physical activities and severeanger episodes” can provoke an attack, Lopez-Jimenez said.

He and colleagues interviewed nearly 2,000 patients shortlyafter they had heart attacks. The researchers asked patients ifthey had what they considered a “heavy meal” before the attack.But the team did not record exactly what patients ate.

Of those patients, 158 reported having an unusually largemeal during the 26 hours before the attack. Twenty-fivepatients had the meal in the two hours before the attack.

The findings, released at the American Heart Association’sannual scientific meeting, could be explained in several ways,Lopez-Jimenez said.

Food Affects Heart

Fatty meals could impair function of the endothelium, theinner layer of the arteries. Also, eating and digesting foodboosts blood levels of hormones that raise blood pressure andheart rate.

Or, a spike in insulin levels after a large meal candecrease the normal relaxation of the coronary arteries.

“People at risk for a heart attack should be careful notonly about the total caloric intake they eat every day, but thesize of individual meals as well,” Lopez-Jimenez said, addingthat further study was needed to determine which types of foodmight provoke heart attacks.