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Drop Pounds to Dissolve Plaque

Tuesday, 21 Feb 2012 07:01 AM


Losing a little weight can reverse atherosclerosis, plaque build-up in arteries that leads to heart attacks and strokes, according to an Israeli study of 140 overweight, middle-aged people. Earlier research has shown that lifestyle changes may stop progression of dangerous plaque, but this is the first proof that diet can literally dissolve it.

In the study, published in “Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association,” researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that any one of three diets produced similar amounts of weight loss and plaque reduction. All contained the same number of calories but varied in content: low-fat, low-carb or a Mediterranean diet high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains with ample healthy fats but small servings of meat or fish.

The study lasted two years and levels of plaque were measured with non-invasive ultrasound, showing three-dimensional images of carotid arteries, the large ones on the sides of the neck where you can take your pulse. These arteries deliver blood to the brain and correlate with the health of arteries that supply the heart.

The bottom line: “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,” says Iris Shai, RD, PhD, and lead author of the study.

The premise that weight loss can unclog arteries is quite remarkable. Researchers typically describe positive discoveries in conservative language, with phrases such as “may prevent,” or “may reduce risk.” In this context, when the lead author of a study says that a healthy weight-loss diet “is effective for reversing” arterial plaque, it’s a bit like someone staging a major fireworks display on any day but July 4. It’s dramatic.

Meaningful Weight Loss
The people in the study (nearly 90 percent men) had an average Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30, the equivalent of someone who is 5-feet-11-inches tall and weighs between 211 and 216 pounds, or 5-feet-3-inches tall weighing between 167 and 172 pounds. You can find your BMI at nhlbisupport.com/bmi, along with an explanation of what it means in relation to your health.

In the study, those who gradually dropped just more than 12 pounds during the course of one year, and kept it off for another year, experienced the greatest amount of plaque reduction. In addition, their blood pressure dropped and “good” cholesterol increased.

Getting Started
If you need to lose weight, start by developing some weight-friendly habits rather than making a heroic but unsustainable effort to drastically alter everything you eat. For example, work on one or more of these:

• Aim to get enough sleep each night. Among other things, adequate rest helps to control your appetite.
• Plan at least one meal ahead, before you get hungry. In the case of breakfast, make your choice before you go to bed.
• Put meals on your daily schedule and eat at a table.
• If you spend a lot of time in your car, keep it stocked with bottled water instead of buying soda.
• If you frequently get hungry while driving, keep one nutrition bar nearby. For convenience, store additional bars where you can’t see or reach them, in the trunk. Choose bars that are high in protein, low in fat, and free of artificial sweeteners, flavorings, or other chemical additives.
• For any meal, look for some type of meat, poultry, or fish (or eggs or egg whites for breakfast) and some non-starchy vegetables (don’t skimp on these). Add a starchy food if you like but consider it a secondary side dish.
• Skip foods that are deep fried or covered in a creamy sauce.
• If you like sweet treats, plan to have one per day, after a good lunch or dinner rather than between meals.






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Losing a little weight can reverse atherosclerosis, plaque build-up in arteries that leads to heart attacks and strokes, according to an Israeli study. Earlier research has shown that lifestyle changes may stop progression of dangerous plaque, but this is the first proof that diet can literally diss
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2012-01-21
 

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