High fat diets and clogged-up arteries may cause more damage in the body than previously thought, according to new research.
Fatty and fibrous deposits which build up on the walls of arteries increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
But now scientists have found that this process, known as atherosclerosis, is also linked to a harmful chemical associated with a range of conditions such as cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer's.
These findings could lead to new treatments for atherosclerosis and its potentially damaging side effects, the US researchers said.
It follows a study on laboratory mice that are genetically prone to atherosclerosis and fed a high fat diet.
The mice produced high levels of the harmful chemical, nitrotyrosine, in their hearts, lungs, livers and kidneys. Those mice that were fed normal diets saw no such increase.
Deleting a gene linked to the formation of atherosclerotic deposits was found to reduce levels of nitrotyrosine.
The findings, presented at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans, indicate that furred up arteries and high-fat diets can cause the accumulation of nitrotyrosine in various organs.
The gene deleted in the experiments makes an enzyme called nitric oxide synthase (iNOS).
Study leader Dr Rita Upmacis, from Weill Medical College, Cornell University, New York, believes this could be a new target for treating atherosclerosis and limiting the production of nitrotyrosine in vital organs.
She said: "The trick will be to develop a drug to block this pathway without causing any unwanted side-effects."