Skipping breakfast may increase the risk of atherosclerosis, study finds

A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicated that skipping breakfast is linked with an augmented risk of atherosclerosis — a condition where the arteries are narrowed or hardened because of the building up of plague.

Having a healthy breakfast is associated with better heart health, which includes a healthier weight as well as lower cholesterol. Prior studies had linked avoiding breakfast to risk of coronary heart disease, whereas the current study is the first to measure the relation between subclinical atherosclerosis and breakfast.

Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, the study author and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology commented that the people who have the habit of skipping breakfast might have an unhealthy lifestyle; also, proactively changing this one negative habit can enable the people to reduce the risk of heart disease.

In the study, 4,052 volunteers (both male and female) who were free from chronic kidney disease or cardiovascular disease were analyzed. They were provided with a computerized questionnaire in order to estimate their typical diet. The percentage of overall daily intake of energy taken at breakfast was obtained to identify the breakfast patterns of the participants.  

Based on the breakfast pattern, the researchers identified three groups: those who take less than 5% of their total energy intake during breakfast (missed breakfast and had taken only juice, coffee, or any other non-alcoholic drinks), breakfast consumers—those who take above 20% of their overall energy intake in the morning, and low-energy breakfast consumers—whose energy intake in between 5% and 20%.

Among the participants, breakfast consumers accounted for 27.7 %, low-energy breakfast consumers for 69.4% and those who skipped breakfast were 2.9%.

Among participants who skipped breakfast, the frequency of atherosclerosis was higher. Also, when compared with breakfast consumers, there was a higher rate of atherosclerosis among low-energy breakfast consumers.  

Moreover, with low-energy breakfast consumers or participants who skipped breakfast, markers of cardiometabolic risk were more prevalently seen than in breakfast consumers.

Those who skipped breakfast were found to have a greater waist circumference, body mass index, fasting glucose levels, blood pressure, blood lipids and had a higher possibility of having hypertension or obesity.

Prakash Deedwania, MD, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco explained that poor dietary choices might be generally made early in life and if not changed, it may lead to cardiovascular disease in later life. During early childhood, the negative impacts of skipping breakfast might be visible in the form of childhood obesity.  

According to Dr. Deedwania, breakfast skippers who normally attempt to lose weight might end up taking in more unhealthy foods in the later part of the day. Deedwania also added that skipping breakfast might also result in altered circadian rhythms as well as hormonal imbalances.

Jose L. Peñalvo, PhD, assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and the senior author of the study said: "Our findings are important for health professionals and might be used as a simple message for lifestyle-based interventions and public health strategies, as well as informing dietary recommendations and guidelines."

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