SPOKANE, Wash. -- Americans are enchanted by fast food.
Whether it is the convenience or the taste, just about everyone has at least one guilty fast food pleasure. One Washington State University researcher says, however, the real cost is not reflected in the price on the menu.
"I have seen the evidence and I don't want that to happen to my heart," said Heidi Medford, a graduate student researcher at WSU’s Spokane campus.
Medford is studying whether exercise can reverse heart damage caused by eating a western diet - a diet high in saturated fat and sugar.
When laboratory mice eat that way, Medford said they become obese within a week.
"Then you get to come in [the lab] and find out what it all means," she said.
Medford examines heart tissue from those mice. After just two weeks on the diet - the equivalent of about three weeks for a human being - she noticed troubling signs.
"It alters the way proteins communicate,” said Medford. “It alters the way that the heart actually functions."
So the grad student put the mice on a tiny treadmill to find out whether any amount of exercise could reverse some of that diet-induced heart damage. The test seemed to produce positive results.
"The heart becomes much stronger. It becomes much more compliant against stress.”
Medford said exercise was not likely able to reverse all the damage caused by a poor diet. She planned to spend the next year, however, trying to pinpoint the extent of the benefits of exercise on such a diet.
Meanwhile, she said she has already seen enough evidence to prompt a change in her personal life.
"Well, I don't hit the drive-thru anymore," joked Medford.
Medford also makes sure she now slips on her running shoes every morning to get in her exercise.
"It definitely helps seeing all the damage that we can do just by not exercising,” said Medford. “It's much more motivating."