-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
WEDNESDAY, Oct. 3 (HealthDay News) -- People who eat a so-called
"Western diet," which is high in fat, salt and sugar, are at
significantly greater risk for stroke or premature death, according
to a new study involving rats.
Researchers from Canada found this type of food, also known as
the "cafeteria diet," creates what they called "a ticking time bomb
of health problems."
For the study, the researchers gave sedentary rats a choice of
nutritional food pellets or junk food items including cookies,
sausage and cupcakes. The animals were also given a choice of water
or a 30 percent sugar solution that imitated soft drinks.
Like humans, the researchers said, the rats preferred the
treats. And after eating a high-calorie, high-sugar and high-sodium
diet for just two months, they developed symptoms of a condition
known as metabolic syndrome, including high blood pressure, high
cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and obesity -- factors that
increase the risk of stroke and other health problems.
The researchers noted that the rats were only the equivalent of
about 16 to 22 years old in human years.
"I think we'll soon start to see people in their 30s or 40s having strokes, having dementia, because of this junk food diet," the study's lead researcher, Dr. Dale Corbett, scientific director of the Center for Stroke Recovery at Canada's Heart and Stroke Foundation, said in a foundation news release. "Young people will have major, major problems much earlier in life."
The study authors said their findings underscore the need for
regular exercise and a well-balanced diet to prevent metabolic
"We're not sure whether metabolic syndrome can be reversed," noted Corbett. "If it can't, and we continue to live and eat like this, then we're each a ticking time bomb of health problems," he added.
Another expert, Dr. Mark Bayley, co-chair of the Canadian Stroke
Congress and medical director of the Neurological Rehabilitation
Program at Toronto Rehab, pointed out in the news release that
"metabolic syndrome and stroke are huge health concerns for the
public. We cannot afford to continue making poor nutritional
choices. Our diet is killing us."
The study authors concluded that more research is needed to
investigate the risks of a poor diet on animals that have other
"Laboratory models often use relatively young animals who are healthier and on better diets than we are," Corbett noted. "However, it is important to remember that for many people, the consequences would be even worse, since a lot of people with stroke also have pre-existing health problems."
The study was scheduled to be presented Monday at the Canadian
Stroke Congress, in Calgary. The data and conclusions of research
presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until
published in a peer-reviewed journal. In addition, experts point
out that results from animal research are not necessarily
applicable to humans.
And while the study found an association between the unhealthy
diets and an increase in health risk factors in the rats, it didn't
prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The U.S. National Stroke Association has more about
stroke risk factors.
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