Heavy Meals May Trigger Heart Attacks

N E W   O R L E A N S, Nov. 14, 2000 -- Eating an unusually heavy meal does not just add calories, it also might trigger a heart attack, 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 the two hours after a large meal.

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

Heart Patients Most At Risk

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

Large meals could be about as risky as sexual intercourse or 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 severe anger episodes” can provoke an attack, Lopez-Jimenez said.

He and colleagues interviewed nearly 2,000 patients shortly after they had heart attacks. The researchers asked patients if they 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 large meal during the 26 hours before the attack. Twenty-five patients had the meal in the two hours before the attack.

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

Food Affects Heart

Fatty meals could impair function of the endothelium, the inner layer of the arteries. Also, eating and digesting food boosts blood levels of hormones that raise blood pressure and heart rate.

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

“People at risk for a heart attack should be careful not only about the total caloric intake they eat every day, but the size of individual meals as well,” Lopez-Jimenez said, adding that further study was needed to determine which types of food might provoke heart attacks.