Weight-loss diets may reverse atherosclerosis in obese, overweight people

A low-carbohydrate diet, a low-fat diet and the Mediterranean diet were equally effective in helping obese people to reverse carotid atherosclerosis after losing moderate amounts of weight and improving their blood pressure, in a study reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Nuclear Research Center and Soroka Hospital in Israel investigated whether diet could reverse atherosclerosis, a slow, progressive condition in which the arteries thicken with plaque buildup, increasing risk of heart attacks and strokes. The research team compared the three diets among overweight participants, mostly men, who were at high risk for atherosclerosis.

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

Weight-loss diets may reverse atherosclerosis in obese, overweight people

“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 Yaakov Henkin, M.D., study co-author and a cardiologist at Soroka University Medical Center, Israel. “The importance of these results is in the understanding that over two years, changes in carotid atherosclerosis are more strongly predicted by diet-induced changes in blood pressure.”

The study’s findings are promising and could be applicable to other populations. But since few women were in the study, gender-specific effects remain unknown, researchers said.

American Heart Association diet and lifestyle recommendations underscore the importance of balancing calories with physical activity to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and acknowledge that macro nutrient content of the diet has little effect on energy balance with the exception of influencing diet satisfaction.

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