Being overweight with excess fat around blood vessels actually appearsto boost the chances of survival following a heart attack, new University of Oxford research revealed.
Doctors claim they might have solved the 'obesity paradox', where someone who was obese on the body mass index (BMI) scale lived longer after a heart attack than someone with a healthy BMI.
The research was presented to the British Cardiovascular Society Conference and drew on studies already published in medical journals, including Diabetes and Circulation.
The studies, led by professor Charalambos Antoniades showed that fat surrounding blood vessels helped to fight heart disease, cutting the risk of a heart attack.
Tissue was collected from patients having heart surgery and researchers found that the heart, and the arteries that supplied blood to it, sent out what they called 'an SOS' to the surrounding fat to stimulate defence mechanisms against early stages of heart disease.
Arteries underwent what was called oxidative stress that led to atherosclerosis, narrowing and hardening of the arteries. According to the researchers, surrounding fat released anti-inflammatory chemicals minimising oxidative stress and helping to prevent heart disease.
In a statement, professor Antoniades says, "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. These findings are an important step towards a treatment that ensures this fat stays on-side throughout our lives to help prevent heart disease."
Coronary heart disease (CHD) had emerged as the leading cause of death in the UK, killing over 73,000 people each year.
The condition develops when the heart's blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances in the coronary arteries.
With time, the walls of the arteries could develop layers of fatty deposits, restricting blood flow and harming the heart's ability to pump.
The team was now looking at how these healthy processes could be weakened if the fat was unhealthy, as could be the case if a person had type 2 diabetes.
Researchers were also developing treatments to reverse this so this fat had a positive impact all the time.
According to professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), which helped fund the research, there was still a huge amount that was not known about how heart disease developed and what processes in the body could help prevent it from happening, The Telegraph reported.
He added, the high quality research using human tissue had provided new perspectives on the roles of fat in heart disease and had implications for future treatment.