1. Patients with autonomic dysfunction and elderly people with an age-related decline in autonomic function can suffer from a fall in blood pressure after eating. While the cardiovascular changes after eating and the effect of meal composition on these changes are well established, the underlying mechanisms are less clear.

2. This study assessed the cardiac, circulatory and humoral responses to ingestion of isoenergetic (2.5 MJ) high carbohydrate and high fat meals in nine orthotopic cardiac transplant recipients, who before transplantation had significant circulatory, metabolic and autonomic abnormalities and after transplantation had complete or partial extrinsic cardiac denervation, and compared them to the responses seen in nine healthy age-matched control subjects.

3. All variables were measured non-invasively. Cardiac transplant recipients, despite cardiac denervation, showed a normal heart rate response to high carbohydrate and high fat meals (maximal increase at 30 min postprandially +7.8 ± 1.1 and +6.3 ± 1.4 beats/min respectively), a normal cardiac output response to the high carbohydrate meal (maximal increase at 30 min +1.16 ± 0.25 l/min), but a significantly attenuated cardiac output response to the high fat meal. Cardiac transplant recipients had attenuated superior mesenteric artery blood flow responses after both meals (P < 0.05) and an attenuated calf vascular resistance response after the high fat meal (P < 0.01). Throughout the study after both meals, cardiac transplant recipients maintained blood pressure.

4. This study demonstrates that cardiac transplant recipients, despite partial or complete cardiac denervation, have a normal chronotropic response to food and a normal cardiac output response to a high carbohydrate meal. The attenuated cardiac output response to a high fat meal did not compromise blood pressure, due at least in part to decreased splanchnic vasodilatation.

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