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Eating Too Much Protein May Be Bad For Your Heart

Eating too much protein can increase the risk of atherosclerosis — a thickening of the arteries caused by plaque buildup — according to new research.

It’s well established that eating protein is essential for a healthy, balanced diet, but a new study shows that moderation is key as too much protein can negatively impact the heart.

The small study, published in Nature Metabolism Monday, found that consuming more than 22% of daily calories through protein, or more than 25 grams of protein per meal, can increase the risk of atherosclerosis and worsen the condition in those who have it.

Atherosclerosis occurs when fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin build up inside the arteries, causing them to become stiff, hard, and inflamed, according to John Hopkins Medicine. This results in a reduction of blood flow and oxygen supply to the vital body organs and extremities and increases the risk of stroke and heart attack.

The researchers conducted two human studies with a total of 23 participants, as well as mice and cell experiments, all of which involved designing two specific diets and comparing their impact — one with standard protein levels and one with high protein levels.

In both the human and mice studies, the researchers found that protein consumption above the aforementioned threshold resulted in high levels of leucine — an amino acid that they discovered plays a key role in the development and progression of atherosclerosis.

These high leucine levels activated a specific pathway in immune cells that can lead to or worsen atherosclerosis, the scientists found.

This study, while small, suggests that protein intake should remain at or below 22% of daily calories, or 25 grams of protein per meal.

This comes at a time when high protein diets are particularly trendy, with social media content creators often recommending extremely high protein intake in order to lose weight and build muscle.

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Meanwhile, previous research suggests that the source of protein, in addition to the amount, matters significantly. One recent study found that women who consumed mostly plant-based protein — like seeds, nuts, and certain grains — were 46% more likely to avoid major chronic illness and other mental and physical health issues as they aged, while those who ate mostly animal-based protein were 6% less likely to stay healthy in comparison.

According to the New York Times, the recommended protein intake for a healthy adult is 46g a day for women and 56g for men, but most American adults eat about 100 grams of protein per day — roughly twice the recommended amount.

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