Washington University logoObese individuals seem to face a number of health issues as compared to people having a normal weight. A new study further highlights the importance of losing weight. According to the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis analysis moderate weight loss in people who are obese may help improve their heart function.

The study suggests that obese patients who lost a moderate amount of their weight by consuming less and increasing their daily exercise showed better cardiovascular health. The two-year study reveals that weight loss in obese individuals appears to have resulted in improvements in four essential measures of heart and vascular health.

Enhancements observed in the study participants comprised of lowered heart muscle thickness, better pumping and relaxation functions of the heart and reduced thickness of the carotid artery walls. While heart muscle thickening and impaired pumping and relaxation functions are linked to heart failure, augmented thickness of the carotid wall is known to be a predictor of plaque formation.

As part of the study nearly 60 moderately obese individuals were analyzed at regular intervals with around 46 people completing the full two-year follow-up period. With participants ranging in from 22 to 64 years of age, their BMIs were noted to have been between 30 and 44. In the course of the investigation, the participants were advised to consume low-calorie diets. About 1,200 to 1,500 calories was suggested for women while men could consume 1,500 to 1,800 calories. They were also required to exercise for about three and a half hours per week, principally walking.

The subjects were found to have lost weight for about six months on an average with a maximum loss of nine percent body weight or 22 pounds being attained. With the most improvement was seen six to 12 months after the study had started, the maximum cardiovascular benefit lagged behind weight loss. Most participants appeared to have slowly regained some of their lost weight at about the beginning of six months.

When the two year period ended, they were found to average about nine pounds below their starting weight. Interestingly even after the participants had regained some weight after two years, they seem to have held onto the health benefit of heart and blood vessel improvement.

“Losing 20 or so pounds might seem daunting to some people, but we showed that even a more modest weight loss can yield heart and vascular benefits,” mentions first author Lisa de las Fuentes, M.D., a Washington University heart specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and assistant professor of medicine in the Cardiovascular Division at the School of Medicine. “It’s important to realize that you can choose goals that are attainable and work progressively toward them. You don’t necessarily need to lose 50 pounds to improve your heart function.”

“The study participants were randomly assigned to either low-carbohydrate or low-fat diets. Both diet groups experienced similar improvements in heart and vascular measurements. That’s reassuring for people who prefer one type of diet over the other,” remarked de las Fuentes.

Clinically evident signs of heart failure like shortness of breath, coughing or fluid buildup appeared to have been absent in the patients enrolled in the study. Also none of them seemed to be taking cholesterol-lowering medications. Nearly one-third of them were reportedly being treated for high blood pressure. The scientists showed the various heart impairments through advanced echocardiography and ultrasound imaging for thorough characterization of cardiovascular health.

It was observed that nearly six to twelve months post the dietary intervention, these indicators of heart and vascular function had become considerably healthier. Also participants’ cholesterol and triglyceride levels seemed to have.

“Over time, obesity leads to abnormal thickening of heart muscle because the heart works harder to pump blood throughout the body,” de las Fuentes shares. “After a while, the hearts of obese people can lose some of their pumping or relaxation ability, leading to heart failure. But our study suggests that by losing weight, people can turn back the clock and regain more youthful heart function.”

The use of advanced imaging technology along with a long follow-up apparently makes the study distinct as per de las Fuentes. The two year follow-up period allowed the experts to document the changes occurring in the individuals due to regaining weight. They found that as patients pile up the weight again; their heart and blood vessel health may be gradually lost.

Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia and the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver also participated in this diet study.

These findings have been published in the Dec, 2009 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.