A study of tissue, which was collected from heart surgery patients, found fat surrounding damaged blood vessels released chemicals that could battle heart disease.
Scientists revealed how the heart, and the arteries supplying blood to it, send out an SOS to the fat surrounding these tissues in order to stimulate a defence mechanism against the early stages of coronary heart disease.
During oxidative stress (a process that leads to the furring of the arteries known as atherosclerosis), the fat surrounding the vessels and heart releases chemicals that minimise this oxidative stress and help to prevent the development of coronary heart disease.
These chemicals are anti-inflammatory to minimise the inflammation triggered by oxidative stress and anti-oxidant to target the damaging process itself.
"Fat has a bad reputation but we’re learning more and more about how and why certain types of fat in the body are actually essential for good heart health," said Professor Charalambos Antoniades, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Oxford.
Presenting at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference, Dr Antoniades, said: "These findings are an important step towards a treatment that ensures this fat stays on-side throughout our lives to help prevent heart disease."
So, while obese people have an increased risk of developing heart disease, they're also more likely to survive.
In their next body of research, the team hope to discover how these healthy processes can be weakened if the fat is unhealthy, as can be the case if a person has type 2 diabetes. They are developing treatments to reverse the process so this particular type of fat has a positive impact all the time.
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By using a newly developed technology based on high resolution computerised tomography (CT), they are also trying to monitor the behaviour of fat in the human body, and guide future therapeutic interventions to prevent cardiovascular diseases.
This could allow doctors to detect the earliest stages of heart disease and urgently direct treatment to prevent the development of the disease which can ultimately lead to a heart attack.
According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), cardiovascular disease kills one in four people in the UK.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the BHF, which helped fund the research, said: "There’s still a huge amount we don’t know about how heart disease develops and what processes in the body can help prevent it from happening.
"This high quality research carried out in people and using human tissue has provided new perspectives on the roles of fat in heart disease and has implications for future treatment."