Supersized Breakfast Stresses Blood Vessels
A small study suggests that eating an oversized fast-food breakfast
can stress blood vessels right up till lunchtime.
930-calorie meal consisting of an Egg McMuffin, a Sausage McMuffin
and two McDonald's hash browns appears to trigger inflammation within
arteries "within an hour," said study co-author Dr. Paresh
Dandona, of the State University of New York at Buffalo. This inflammation
"is slow to increase but it's not over by three hours. It's
still continuing, and it might be continuing till four hours for
all we know," he added.
The study appears in the April issue of the American Journal of
By now, most people know the regular consumption of high-fat, high-carbohydrate
meals raises cholesterol levels and sends blood sugar rates soaring,
raising risks for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
But, according to Dandona, nutritionists are becoming increasingly
aware that these types of meals can induce a third, equally dangerous
response within blood vessels.
"We now believe that a common pathway for the causation of
atherosclerosis -- hardening of the arteries -- is through inflammatory
mechanisms," he explained. "Atherosclerosis is actually
an inflammation of the wall of the arteries."
Certain types of nutrients, most notably fats and carbohydrate
sugars, appear to induce the release of "free radical"
molecules within blood cells, which in turn triggers inflammation,
In their study, Dandona's team had nine healthy young adults consume
a McDonald's meal consisting of an Egg McMuffin, a Sausage McMuffin
and two hash browns, after an overnight fast. They then took blood
samples from each of the participants one, two, and three hours
author Dr. Ahmad Aljada said the researchers chose the extra-large,
two-McMuffin "double breakfast" because its 900 calories
falls within the normal range for fast food meals, generally. Other
studies are under way that focus on smaller (300-calorie) and larger
The researchers chose the McMuffin-hash brown meal because of its
popularity, and said similar breakfast fare at other restaurants
could provoke the same response.
Compared to individuals who had received no breakfast, those who
had eaten the McDonald's meal displayed "evidence of free radical
generation by the circulating white blood cells, which would cause
inflammation within the white blood cells," Dandona said.
These markers of inflammation peaked at the second hour, but appeared
at high levels in all three tests -- suggesting that high-fat, high-calorie
foods might wreak havoc on arteries right up till the next meal.
Separate studies have suggested carbohydrates and fats are major
culprits in inducing the inflammatory response, Dandona said, whereas
proteins are relatively benign. Picking apart the McDonald's breakfast,
the hash browns, cooking oil and muffin may be the main source of
inflammatory stress -- not the protein-rich egg or sausage. Dandona
theorized that "if you were to concentrate on proteins, you'd
conserve your tissues while at the same time causing yourself the
least amount of oxidative stress and inflammation."
But not everyone is convinced. Dr. Chris Rosenbloom, a professor
of nutrition at Georgia State University in Atlanta, says she wouldn't
make any dietary recommendations based on this small study. The
study included only nine subjects and, because it included two McMuffin
sandwiches, was "a pretty hefty breakfast," she pointed
"It would also have been more significant if they had compared
the [McDonald's] meal to a 900-calorie meal of fruits and whole
grain cereal, or lean meats or something like that," she said.
"I would look at this as a preliminary study."
But Dandona's team said it has recently finished a separate study
focused on just that type of low-fat, high-fiber meal. That study,
as yet unpublished, found a 900-calorie breakfast consisting of
fruit and high-fiber cereal "will not cause either oxidative
stress or inflammation," Dandona said.
McDonald's announced last week that it was offering leaner fare
on its menu, including low-carb alternatives, a wider variety of
salads, bottled water, Happy Meals with apple slices, and even a
pedometer to promote walking as a way of getting exercise.
at McDonald's or other restaurants needn't be so calorie-laden.
A meal of one Egg McMuffin and one hash brown clocks in at 430 calories,
while other items, like sausage burritos and bagels, contain even
fewer. At lunch or dinner, a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a small
order of fries will add 760 calories.
Dandona believes the addition of foods rich in antioxidants might
help "balance out" some of the negative effects of high-fat,
high-carb meals. Orange juice, for example, is high in carbohydrates,
"but doesn't give you any inflammation," because it's
also high in free radical-busting antioxidants like vitamin C and
Vigorous exercise can also help reduce the bad effects of tasty
but unhealthy foods, he notes. "Exercise does reduce the levels
of inflammation," Dandona said. "How it does so, nobody
knows, but there are good studies showing marathoners and ultra-marathoners
-- folks running 100 kilometers -- that these guys have inflammation
levels one-third of yours and mine."
The Buffalo researcher also stressed that fast-food chains are
not the only source of artery-stressing breakfasts. Sit-down restaurants
or even a home-cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast would have
the much the same effect on arteries.
Rosenbloom agreed. "The kinds of meals they used in this study
are high in total fat, high in saturated fat, high in cholesterol
and high in sodium," she said. "Those are all nutrients
that we know are positively related to the development of cardiovascular
McDonald's Corp. did not reply to requests for comment.