Could being obese be good for heart patients?

Posted by Anirdha on Tue, Jun 30, 2009  
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A recent study published by researchers from Louisiana about the “Obesity Paradox” has caused much confusion and discussions. The research findings were extensively reported in the media under titles that, at least to a lay man suggested “Being fat could be good for you”.

Now nothing could get more confusing than this! Such research findings can be extremely intriguing for the lay person, who was till now made to believe that being overweight was the most important risk factor for heart diseases. Hence, it is very important that we understand the research findings completely and clearly.

First of all note that the researchers do not say that “Being obese is great”. No way. What they have reported is that in several studies that they looked at, obese people with cardiovascular disease had better prognosis than their thinner counterparts. On the face of it, these findings are puzzling, and the scientists say that they are still looking at possible explanations for this. But an important aspect of the research that we need to note is that, even in these studies obese patients with heart disease benefited from losing weight.

A possible reason why obese patients could have done better than the thinner ones is that the underlying mechanisms that lead to heart disease in obese patients are different from those that cause heart disease in non-obese individuals. In lean people, the genetic factors play a very important role, but it is likely that the obese person would have not got a heart disease at all, if he or she had not put on that extra weight.

The researchers have clarified that their work in no way is an encouragement for weight gain. But yes, it does mean more hope for the obese patients, in the sense that they their being obese does not mean the end of the world for them.

While the scientists are still probing the reasons for these apparently conflicting findings, the bottom line remains that losing weight lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease.  And perhaps this is what we should all stay focused on.

The original paper is available in the May 26, 2009 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC).

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