Normal, healthy weights are usually associated with better health performance and outcomes, but a new study, published in the American Journal of Cardiology, shows that this may not be the case for heart failure patients.
Heart failure is a serious condition where the performance of the heart is negatively affected. Approximately 5.8 million Americans suffer from this condition. Approximately one half to two thirds of individuals with heart failure are overweight (at risk of obesity) or are obese. When a person has heart failure their heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands. Heart failure develops over time as the hearts performance gets weaker. If you are obese or are at risk of obesity, you are at risk of heart failure. If you are at risk of obesity your chance of suffering from coronary heart disease, hypertension and diabetes increases. These three conditions are causes of heart failure. Currently there is no cure for heart failure; individuals have to rely on medications and lifestyle changes to help live a longer and more active life. However, research out of UCLA found that if you do suffer from heart failure, being obese may actually help to protect you.
The Study on the Risk of Obesity
The study from UCLA found that in both men and women who had advanced heart failure, obesity (which was indicated by body mass index (BMI) and a higher waist circumference) were factors that decreased their chance of suffering from adverse outcomes of heart failure. High BMI levels were measured at or above 25kg/m2 for both men and women. A high waist circumference was measured at 40 inches or more for men and 37 inches or more for women. At the two year follow up, researchers found that a high waist circumference and high BMI in men was associated with survival from adverse outcomes. Adverse outcomes of heart failure include: death, the need for a heart transplant, and the need for a ventricular assist device. Women with higher BMI levels had better outcomes than women with normal BMI levels. Additionally, women with higher waist circumferences also leaned towards better outcomes. Men and women who had normal BMI levels and normal waist circumferences were at a significantly higher risk of adverse outcomes. Normal BMI measurements were associated with a 34% higher risk of adverse outcomes in men and a 38% higher risk of adverse outcomes in women when compared to their overweight and obese counterparts. Normal waist circumference was associated with men’s risk of adverse outcomes doubling and a women’s risk of adverse outcomes tripling.
The current findings provide further evidence into what is known as the “obesity paradox”. This research shows that the obesity paradox exists for both men and women. Obesity is a known risk factor for heart disease and heart failure. However, once a person has heart failure, being obese can have some protective benefits. The reason why the obesity paradox exists for heart failure patients is not known, however, the researchers present some explanations as to why it may exist.
Obesity may provide patients with the benefit of increased muscle mass as well as increased amounts of fatty tissue which may provide metabolic reserves that an underweight or normal weight person may not have to spare. As well, individuals who are obese have higher levels of serum lipoproteins that may act as an anti-inflammatory, neutralizing circulating toxins and proteins that are associated with inflammation. The researchers also state that obese individuals generally visit their doctor in the earlier stages of heart failure because they have increased symptoms and are unable to do some functional tasks due to increased body weight. Seeking treatment sooner may lead to better outcomes for obese individuals. Future studies should investigate why the obesity paradox exists for heart failure patients. Additionally, once it is determined how obesity acts as a protective barrier for heart failure patients, ways in which to mimic this role may prove to be beneficial for individuals of a normal weight that have heart failure.
If you are obese or are at risk of obesity, the best thing you can do for your health is to control your weight so that your heart performance isn’t affected in the first place. While this new research sheds additional light onto the obesity paradox, it doesn’t replace existing knowledge that being obese puts you at risk of multiple serious health conditions. Living a healthy lifestyle that includes eating a healthy dieting and exercising regularly will help to improve your overall health performance and will help to keep your heart performance optimal. By engaging in a healthy lifestyle, your chance of suffering from a disease that can lead to heart failure will be minimized and you won’t need to worry about ways to prevent the adverse outcomes associated with heart failure.