Low calorie diets, particularly extremely restrictive diets, can cure diabetes, but they also worsen heart function.
When looking for weight loss, essentially the main recommendation is to lower the caloric density of the diet, that is, to carry out low calorie diets. It is not about "eating less", but about "eating better”; something that if done correctly leads us to eat more food, but with lower caloric density. Finally, if we carry out all the steps correctly, we will lose weight, especially in the form of fat. At least, ideally speaking.
However, although it is always recommended to carry out this step but rarely done, any individual seeking weight loss is commonly advised to carry out a medical check-up in advance in order to be able to adapt the new diet to their possible limitations, such as for example suffer some kind of chronic disease. As examples of popular diets, we have the cases of the ketogenic diet or intermittent fasting, which are not recommended during pregnancy, although there is no problem in its performance in athletes for example.
With this in mind, the Oxford University researchers turned their eye on low-calorie diets for individuals with heart problems. These are diets below the recommended 2,000 kcal standard to maintain a healthy weight, which can be taken to extreme cases by some individuals. However, when suffering from some type of cardiovascular problem, low calorie diets can make the situation worse, according to recent work presented at the Annual Meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.
Low calorie diets and heart, a troubled relationship
This new work confirms, once again, the need for any individual who intends to carry out a low-calorie diet (especially if he suffers from heart problems), must first seek medical attention in order to carry out a correct evolutionary control.
The problem in itself is not remembering some calories from the diet. That is to say, the problem is not all low-calorie diets, but the fact that today there are many individuals who carry out drastic caloric cuts through the consumption of diets of even less than 1,000 kcal per day, with the aim of lose weight quickly.
These types of strict diets, or "meal replacement programs" as Dr. Jennifer Rayner of the Oxford University MRI Center calls them, can lead to consuming as little as 600 to 800 kcal per day, something that has been shown produce rapid weight loss, a decrease in blood pressure and even great potential to cure diabetes. However, the effects of these drastic caloric cuts on the heart had not been taken into account.
Taking into account the lack of studies on the subject, the researchers recruited 21 obese volunteers with a mean age of 52 years and a mean BMI of 37 (close to the borderline of morbid obesity). All of them carried out low-calorie diets, consuming only between 600 and 800 kcal per day for eight weeks. Before, during and after the study, all of them had an MRI of the heart.
Low calorie diets, benefits and drawbacks for the heart
After the first week, all participants lost fat, an average of 6% total body fat, 11% visceral fat, and 42% fat around the liver; Likewise, its metabolic parameters also obtained benefits, such as an improvement in insulin resistance, a decrease in total cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose and even mean arterial pressure.
However, on the other side of the coin, MRI studies found that during the first week the fat content of the heart had increased by 44%; likewise, the heart's function had worsened, including its ability to pump blood.
Theoretically, the aforementioned metabolic improvements should consequently lead to an improvement in heart function. However, the exact opposite occurred in just one week. According to the researchers, the sudden general fat loss appears to be absorbed by the heart muscle, although after an acute phase of adaptation to low-calorie diets, this situation improves.
The problem, in this case, would be suffered by those individuals who already have some type of heart problem prior to performing this type of diet: a sudden and rapid loss of fat, subsequently absorbed by an already injured heart muscle, would aggravate the disease previous. Heart failure (problems with the heart pumping blood properly) may get worse, causing shortness of breath and even heart rhythm disturbances.
Currently, heart failure is the third leading cause of death at the cardiovascular level, being similar and even higher than the mortality caused by many types of cancer according to the Spanish Society of Cardiology.
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