Certain proteins, called elastins, are responsible both for enabling your lungs expand to breath and to help your heart work non-stop to pump thousands of gallons of blood across the body. But a new study found that people could be silently disrupting these necessary functions by eating (and drinking) too much sugar.

The study appears in the Physical Review Letters.

The findings cross the boundaries of health and physics. The elastin proteins actively participate in a function called ferroelectricity, an activity normally seen in magnets when a molecule goes from a positive to a negative charge. When these networks of stretching proteins were exposed to high levels of glucose, researchers saw that the structures froze and the performance decreased by 50 percent, either slowing it down or completely stopping its function — eventually debilitating the artery or ligament involved in the mechanical process.

Originally, ferroelectricity was only thought to have occurred in synthetic materials. However the same researchers discovered they were in actively a part of pumping a pig's aorta. This lead researchers to wonder how the human system could demonstrate the same functions.

"I would expect the same phenomena will be observed in those tissues and organs as well," said co-corresponding author Jiangyu Li, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Washington, reported to Science Daily. "It will be more common than what we originally thought."

A process called glycation normally happens as an individual ages and the proteins harden and thicken.

"This finding is important because it tells us the origin of the ferroelectric switching phenomenon and also suggests it's not an isolated occurrence in one type of tissue as we thought," said Li. "This could be associated with aging and diabetes, which I think gives more importance to the phenomenon."

In their future research, researchers want to evaluate the functions of elastin and ferroelectric properties even further to see how it could be potentially be involved with the onset of a disease.