High Protein Diets May Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease

John Clarke

Written by John Clarke


Recent findings suggest that too much protein in our diets could be putting our heart health at risk. A study from the University of Pittsburgh points to the dangers of consuming over 22% of daily calories from protein, especially when it exceeds 25 grams per meal, as this may increase the risk of atherosclerosis—a condition characterized by the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on the artery walls.

Understanding the Balance in Protein Consumption

Maintaining a balanced diet is crucial, and this includes the right amount of protein, which should also come from plant-based sources. The Pittsburgh study, which involved human, mouse, and cell experiments, highlighted that a higher intake of protein leads to increased levels of leucine. This amino acid activates a pathway in immune cells that is associated with the development of atherosclerosis.

Human and Animal Studies: Echoing Results

The human arm of the study involved 23 participants and examined two different protein consumption setups. Concurrently, the animal studies with mice supported the human findings, suggesting a higher risk of cardiovascular disease with diets high in protein. These results have prompted calls for a more cautious approach to high protein diets and a reconsideration of dietary guidelines.

Protein Intake Recommendations

Current protein intake recommendations hover around 11% of daily energy to maintain nitrogen balance in the body. Dr. Babak Razani, in light of this study, revisited previous research that connects high protein diets to cardiovascular disease, pointing to the mTOR pathway in macrophages, with leucine being a key player in atherosclerosis risk.

Conflicting Studies and Cardiologists’ Perspective

Two significant studies, one from 2020 and another from 2023, presented conflicting findings on the relationship between high protein diets and cardiovascular outcomes. Despite these mixed results, some cardiologists are now advising patients towards more plant-based diets. However, the small sample size of the new study suggests that immediate changes in dietary recommendations may not be warranted just yet.

Views from Dietitians on Protein Consumption

Dietitians point out that over-consuming protein is typically challenging within a balanced diet but caution that it can crowd out other essential nutrients. They emphasize that balanced diets should incorporate moderate amounts of diverse nutrients and that individual protein needs can vary greatly. Therefore, personalized dietary advice from dietitians is often recommended.

The Risks of Excess Protein

Going overboard with protein can not only disrupt the balance of nutrients but also add surplus calories, which could be harmful in the long run. Instead of focusing solely on protein, health experts recommend including plant proteins in our diets due to their heart-protective properties, such as reducing heart disease risk.

Plant vs. Animal Proteins: A Heart Health Comparison

Animal proteins, while an effective source of protein, can elevate cardiovascular risk factors due to their saturated fat content and compounds that promote inflammation. On the other hand, plant proteins are packed with antioxidants, fiber, and a variety of nutrients that are beneficial for heart health, making them an advisable choice for those looking to maintain a healthy heart.

Making Heart-Healthy Choices

As our understanding of nutrition and heart health continues to evolve, it’s clear that a careful approach to protein consumption is necessary. While we await further research and potential updates to dietary guidelines, the current consensus leans towards a balanced diet with a moderate and varied nutrient intake, emphasizing the inclusion of plant-based proteins for their added health benefits.