BGU experts: Losing weight can reverse atherosclerosis

Low-fat and “Mediterranean” diets equally effective in helping the obese reverse carotid atherosclerosis, improving their blood pressure.

March 2, 2010 05:26
1 minute read.
BGU experts: Losing weight can reverse atherosclerosis

Healthier Eating 298.88. (photo credit: Turbo Photo)

Weight-loss diets can reverse atherosclerosis in the obese and overweight, Ben-Gurion University researchers have found – good news for those with clogged arteries who feared that heart disease and strokes were inevitable.

Dr. Iris Shai, the physician and nutrition epidemiologist who led the team, found low-carbohydrate, low-fat and “Mediterranean” diets to be equally effective in helping the obese reverse carotid atherosclerosis after losing moderate amounts of weight and improving their blood pressure.

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Writing in the prestigious journal Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, she and colleagues at the Nuclear Research Center and Soroka University Hospital in Beersheba investigated the effects of diet on atherosclerosis – a slow, progressive condition in which the arteries thicken with plaque build-up, increasing risk of heart attacks and strokes.

They compared the effects of the three diets among 140 overweight participants, mostly men, who were at high risk for atherosclerosis. After two years, researchers noted a significant, five percent regression in average carotid vessel-wall volume and a 1.1% percent decrease in carotid artery thickness.

 Since few women participated in the study, gender-specific effects remain unknown, researchers said.

The diets also resulted in greater weight loss; decreased systolic blood pressure levels; improved levels of homocysteine (an amino acid that when found to be at a high level in the blood is a powerful risk factor for cardiovascular disease); and an increase in apolipoprotein A1, the major component of “good” cholesterol.

The researchers said the data is some of the earliest showing the potential of diet as a lifestyle modification strategy to prevent atherosclerosis. The findings indicate that only sustained, moderate weight loss – not the macronutrient content of the different diets – leads to improved cardiovascular health.

“Long-term adherence to weight-loss diets is effective for reversing carotid atherosclerosis, as long as we stick to one of the current options of healthy diet strategy,” said Shai.

“The reduced caloric intake is probably the major determinant of weight loss, but the macronutrient content determines patients’ satisfaction with the diet and the metabolic changes associated with the weight loss,” said Dr. Yaakov Henkin, a co-author and a cardiologist at Soroka.

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