Newsbites: Activity and cardiovascular health; produce and cognitive health; caution with vitamin E and beta-carotene

Metabolically Healthy Obesity” May Not Protect Against Heart Disease

If you are obese but all of your “numbers” are good (blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar…), a new study suggests you are still at greater risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) than a normal-weight person with similar numbers.

The study used data from nearly 9,500 adults with an average age of 56 years at the start. Participants were grouped as either metabolically healthy or metabolically unhealthy within the categories of normal weight, overweight, or obese. In 17 years of follow-up, there were 2,600 clinical CVD events in the study population. All groups, including those who were metabolically healthy overweight or obese, had higher CVD risk than the metabolically healthy normal weight individuals. The excess burden of clinical CVD in the metabolically heathy obese participants was primarily due to a higher risk of heart failure.

Even if your overall health is good, extra weight may increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. Smart dietary choices and increased physical activity can help shed pounds and reduce CVD risk.

Physical Activity Plus Moderate Calorie Reduction Helps Cardiovascular Health

As we age, the aorta (the body’s main artery) gets stiffer. Arterial stiffness is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular events, dementia, and death. Excess body weight tends to accelerate the problem. Aerobic activity may help. A recent trial set out to see if aerobic exercise alone could improve aortic stiffness in older adults with obesity or if weight loss was necessary as well.

The study randomly assigned one third of 160 men and women ages 65 to 79 with BMIs in the obese range to eat as usual, one third to follow a diet with moderate calorie restriction, and one third to follow a more intensive calorie restricted diet. All participants walked on a treadmill four days a week for 30 minutes. After 20 weeks, weight loss was significantly greater in the calorie restricted groups compared the exercise-only group, but only the moderate calorie restriction group showed significant improvements in measures of aortic stiffness.

Radical diets and boot camp training regimens are not necessary to reap health benefits. Regular physical activity (like the brisk walking used in this study), combined with weight loss through a moderate decrease in caloric intake as part of a healthy dietary pattern is a great way to protect your cardiovascular health.

Eating Your Fruits and Veggies is Linked to Preserved Cognitive Health

A study that followed over 77,000 U.S. women and men for 20 to 22 years found higher intake of dietary flavonoids from foods was associated with less cognitive decline.

Flavonoids (flavonols, flavones, flavanones, flavan-3-ols, anthocyanins, polymeric flavonoids, and proanthocyanidins) are phytochemicals that occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, grains, tea, and wine. The study compared reported dietary intake of these flavonoids to subsequent subjective cognitive decline and found that higher intake of total flavonoids was associated with lower odds of cognitive decline after adjusting for age and other factors.

Flavonoid-rich foods, like oranges, citrus fruit juices, apples/pears, celery, peppers, and bananas, are healthy additions to any dietary pattern, (particularly when they replace less healthy choices such as refined carbs) and they may help to keep your brain sharp as you age.

Vitamin E and Beta-Carotene Supplements Not Recommended

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released a draft report stating that the risks of beta-carotene supplementation outweigh the benefits for prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer. Beta-carotene supplements have previously been linked to increased risk of lung cancer in smokers and may increase risk of dying from heart disease or stroke.

Additionally, the report found robust evidence that vitamin E supplementation is not beneficial in prevention of CVD and cancer. There is insufficient evidence to judge the risk and benefits of taking other vitamin, mineral, or multivitamin supplement for prevention of these conditions.

Getting beta-carotene from foods is safe. This vitamin A precursor is found in yellow, orange, and leafy green produce. Vitamin E is found in plant oils, nuts, and seeds. Following a healthy dietary pattern will supply the appropriate amounts of these nutrients for health.

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