But My Cholesterol is Fine

Written by Dr. Fuhrman's colleague Dr. Steven Acocella, MS, D.C., DACBN, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist, and a Diplomat of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition.

Excess weight, especially in middle age dramatically increases the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and other morbid conditions even in the absence of more established indicators of risk such as smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concludes that excess weight itself puts people at greater risk for significant health problems. This massive study followed over 17,000 men and women ages 31 to 64 over an average of 32 years. Each participant was assigned to one of 5 groups based upon risk factors independent of weight that included past or present tobacco use, elevated blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. The low-risk group never smoked and had normal cholesterol levels and blood pressure. The moderate-risk group didn't smoke but had either slight elevations in cholesterol or blood pressure. The intermediate-risk group had either high cholesterol, high blood pressure or currently smoked. The elevated-risk group and high-risk group had any 2 or all 3 three of these risk factors, respectively. The results were alarming.

The incidence of cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart attacks and diabetes were observed as well as hospitalizations and deaths related to these conditions. The body mass index (height to weight ratio) was calculated for each participant and compared health status to BMI for each group. The study evidenced that individuals with no cardiovascular risk factors as well as for those with 1 or more risk factors who were overweight in middle age had a significantly higher risk of hospitalization and mortality from heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes than those who were of normal weight. In fact, the risk of death from heart disease was an ominous 43 percent higher within the low-risk group (no risk factors) for overweight and obese individuals as compared to those of normal weight.

I often hear overweight people proudly stating that their cholesterol numbers and blood pressure readings are normal intimating that in some way their weight is less of a problem. I have literally had patients say that although they know they're overweight it's "OK" because their cholesterol is fine. Not fine. This perception may grant some overweight people a false sense of security when it comes to their health. This fool's paradise is often fostered by the barrage of drug commercials, other media messages and even uninformed health professionals that overemphasize some risk factors while understating the importance of attaining a healthy weight, especially in middle age.

This important study clearly demonstrates that just because those lab results are great, excess weight alone puts you at almost double the risk for an untimely death.

Study: Healthy, Restricted Calorie Diet Helps to Prevent Heart Disease and Cancer

The next issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology will include research comparing 25 members of the Calorie Restriction Society (aged 41 to 64)--who consume 1,400 to 2,000 nutrient-rich calories per day--with the same number of people who eat a typical Western diet of 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.

They found that those on the restricted diet had significantly healthier hearts. Jim Salter describes it this way in an Associated Press article about the study:

"This is the first study to demonstrate that long-term calorie restriction with optimal nutrition has cardiac-specific effects that (delay or reverse) age-associated declines in heart function," said Luigi Fontana, lead author and assistant professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis.

The study will be published Tuesday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Fontana said simply consuming less food is not the answer. Members of the study group eat food resembling a traditional Mediterranean diet, focusing on vegetables, olive oil, beans, whole grains, fish and fruit. They avoid refined and processed foods, soft drinks, desserts, white bread and other sources of "empty" calories.

For the general public, the researchers recommend a moderate reduction in calories, combined with moderate, regular exercise.

Research on mice and rats indicated that life span can be stretched by about 30 percent with stringent and consistent caloric restriction. That research also suggested that restricting calories can help prevent cancer.

Heart attacks and strokes cause about 40 percent of deaths in Western countries, researchers said. Cancer causes another 30 percent. Fontana said those deaths are attributable to "secondary aging" from high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and other often-preventable conditions.

While it has long been known that a healthy diet and exercise can reduce risks, the study suggests that caloric restriction combined with optimal nutrition can do even more.

Tuesday Health Notes