Washington: A high fat diet damages arteries earlier than suspected and is the first in a series of steps that cause high blood pressure (BP).

With age, increasing weight and metabolic disease, the internal walls of our large arteries progressively thicken and become less elastic, contributing to atherosclerosis and high BP.

Marie Billaud and colleagues from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, reported these findings in mice, the Journal of Cardiovascular Translational Research reports.

At present, researchers and physicians tend to measure arterial compliance (a measure of arterial stiffness) in large arteries in rather advanced stages of disease. However, this may not provide the full picture of when a disease starts and how it develops, according to a Virginia statement.

Besides, previous work has suggested that changes in the walls of small arteries are the most potent indicators of cardiovascular diseases, suggesting that early identification of these changes is important.

Billaud and team compared the arterial compliance of two different sized arteries – carotid (large) and thoracodorsal (smaller) in two groups of mice: one fed a high-fat diet for six weeks, the other a control group on a traditional diet.

They found that the structural and mechanical properties of small arteries were rapidly altered after only six weeks of high fat feeding.

The authors conclude: “These results suggest that, at an early stage of obesity, the structural properties of small and large arteries are altered whereas arterial stiffness is only observed in small vessels.”