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Skipping Breakfast May Increase Atherosclerosis Risk

Not eating breakfast linked to a prevalence of atherosclerotic lesions.
Published Online: Oct 11,2017
Laurie Toich, Assistant Editor
The common saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” may be true in regard to heart disease. A new study published by the Journal of American College of Cardiology suggests that individuals who skip breakfast or eat less than 5% of their daily calories during the meal are more than twice as likely to develop atherosclerosis.

This association remained true even after accounting for risk factors, including smoking, high cholesterol, and physical activity levels.

The authors report that these findings highlight the importance of eating a high-energy breakfast for overall and cardiovascular health. Additionally, the results also suggest that not eating breakfast could be an indicator of an unhealthy diet and lifestyle.

Included in the study were 4000 middle-aged patients who were monitored with imaging technology over 6 years to determine the prevalence and progression of atherosclerotic lesions. The authors imaged plaques in the carotid and femoral arteries, the aorta, and the coronary arteries. 

The new study investigated the link between subclinical atherosclerosis and 3 breakfast patterns. The goal was to determine whether different breakfast patterns could lead to atherosclerosis among patients with no history of cardiovascular disease.

Subclinical atherosclerosis is characterized by fatty deposits on the artery walls that do not cause symptoms, according to the authors.

Of the participants, 20% ate a high-energy breakfast that contained more than 20% of their daily calorie intake. Another 70% ate a low-energy breakfast, while 3% skipped breakfast or ate less than 5% of their daily calories during breakfast, which was typically comprised of coffee or fruit juice, according to the study.

The authors found that patients who skipped breakfast or who ate very little for breakfast had unhealthier eating habits and more cardiovascular risk factors compared with the other cohorts.

For patients who skipped breakfast, the investigators discovered 1.5 times more atherosclerotic plaques than patients who ate a high-energy meal. Notably, some of the regions had as many as 2.5 times the amount of plaques, according to the study.

Previous studies have suggested that a high-energy breakfast is linked to lower weight, a healthier diet, and a lower risk of heart disease related to hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

The new study confirms that nutritional quality and eating patterns can play a significant role in preventing cardiovascular disease. The authors say that additional studies are needed to understand the mechanisms that drive this relationship.

“We need earlier and more precise risk markers for the early phases of atherosclerosis that will allow us to improve strategies to prevent myocardial infarction, stroke, and sudden death,” said researcher Dr Antonio Fernández-Ortiz. “These latest results make a definite contribution to achieving this goal.”