All weight loss is good for the heart, suggests new research.
Most people would agree that fat is bad for you, and many individuals will know that obesity and overweight harm the heart, in particular.
But in the past few years, some studies have put forth the idea that certain types of fat may, on the contrary, protect the heart.
Other studies have emphasized the idea that it is only the "healthy" fat surrounding the heart that can protect it, while older studies have suggested that gluteofemoral fat — that is, the fat on the buttocks, thighs, and hips — may improve cardiometabolic health.
But a new study — led by Peter Clifton, a professor of nutrition at the University of South Australia in Adelaide, and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association — contradicts some research cited above.
The less fat you have, the new study suggests, the more your heart will thank you, as losing any type of fat is shown to lower the risk of heart disease.
Prof. Clifton shares some of the questions that motivated him to undergo the research. He says, "If you are a person who keeps most of your fat in these [gluteofemoral] protective regions and you decide to lose weight, are you gaining any benefit from this weight loss?"
"Or," he asks, "are you doing yourself harm in terms of cardiovascular disease?"
To answer this question, he examined data from seven studies of weight loss through dieting. The studies summed up 399 participants and Prof. Clifton looked at how losing fat in the thighs, backside, and surrounding muscles affected heart disease risk in these people.
The analysis concluded that the "[l]oss of leg fat and leg lean tissue was directly associated with beneficial changes in cardiovascular disease risk markers."
As a result, Prof. Clifton explains, those who lose weight "should not worry about where [their] fat is coming off — all fat loss is good, at least for the heart."
The study also found no adverse cardiovascular effects to losing muscle in the same gluteofemoral areas.
He advises, therefore, that physicians needn't "worry about getting patients to exercise to minimize their muscle loss. [...] You can just focus on losing weight first. Then, when [patients] are lighter, get them to increase exercise."
"The bottom line is that any weight loss — regardless of whether it is fat or lean, backside, or abdomen — reduces cardiovascular risk factors [...] For lowering cholesterol, losing leg fat is just as important as losing abdominal fat."
Prof. Peter Clifton