Scientists say eating the right foods could allow humans to build up stores of substances in their hearts which prevent the heart from losing its beat -- protecting it against heart attacks.
CSIRO has now developed a technique for studying the food extracts involved, by testing them out on single heart cells beating under a microscope.
Details of the study will be revealed to an international conference in Scotland next week (eds: July 22) by the two researchers involved: Dr Ted McMurchie and Mr Wayne Leifert of the Division of Human Nutrition.
Dr McMurchie says it is well-known that eating the right foods can help prevent heart attacks. Now new evidence shows this might be at least partly because hearts can store some substances from such foods in their cells, where they can be called on in the event of a heart attack.
For example, he says, fish and fish oils contain fatty acids with heart-protecting properties. The fatty acids work by helping the cells of the heart to beat together in harmony, preventing them from going into the arrhythmic (beating out of time) patterns which bring on cardiac arrest.
Dr McMurchie will deliver a paper to next week's 4th International Congress of Essential Fatty Acids and Eicosanoids in Edinburgh, in which he will report on a technique he and Mr Leifert are developing to test how well different food extracts work at keeping cells beating in time.
The scientists use individual heart cells, grown in culture dishes. They place a few of the cells at a time under a microscope, and observe them with a high-speed video camera, and other computer-imaging systems.
To make the cells beat together in time, the scientists stimulate them with a weak electrical current. They then add special drugs which make the cells undergo a ?heart attack?.
Dr McMurchie said the technique may allow scientists to test which food extracts work best at reducing the risk of heart attacks, including beneficial substances from such sources as fish oil and plant extracts. The best performing substances could then be tested later in clinical studies.
The ultimate aim, he says, is to find which foods and food extracts should be eaten by people at risk of having heart attacks, so they can build up a store of protective substances in the cells of their hearts.
If this is successful, when a heart attack occurs the store of protective substances will be available to help the heart from losing its rhythmical beating behaviour.
Dr Ted McMurchie, CSIRO
ph +61-8-8303-8951, fax: +61-8-8303-8899
Wayne Leifert, CSIRO
ph +61-8-8303-8956, fax +61-8-8303-8899