Crash diets and cardiac issues – what’s the link?

It’s only been a few days since Shane Warne’s passing and already reports are emerging of doctors warning of the link between the sort of extreme diet Warne used to ‘shred’ and an increased risk of heart attack in those already with cardiac problems.

Let’s be honest, who hasn’t been on a diet, ‘watched’ what they were eating, or even tried some extreme calorie restricting regime? And mostly we do it to lose weight.  We do it and we’re potentially prioritising looking good over our overall health.

At CMR 2018 – the largest ever joint meeting of EuroCMR (European Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance)/SCMR (Society of Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance) – Dr Jennifer Rayner from Oxford University reported on their study of the impact of a very low-calorie diet (600-800 calories a day) on heart function and the distribution of fat in the abdomen, liver and heart muscle.

The study found that after 1 week, total body fat, visceral fat and liver fat had all fallen significantly along with major improvements in insulin resistance, total cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose and blood pressure.  However, it also found that after 1 week, heart fat content has risen by 44%, associated with a deterioration in heart function, including the heart’s ability to pump blood

By 8 weeks, heart fat content and function had improved beyond the starting point but initially heart function declined as the body adjusted to calorie restriction.

While such a diet can have numerous health benefits and be can be effective for short term weight loss, and helping to reduce blood pressure and reverse diabetes, initial effects for people with existing heart problems could be aggravated, increasing symptoms like shortness of breath, or increasing the risk of arrhythmias.

If you’re thinking about a low-calorie diet, caution should be exercised, especially in those with heart conditions, your doctor’s advice should be sought before starting such a diet and there should be adequate supervision.

Bear in mind that you can’t exist on low calories forever and eventually you’re going to need to get back to some sort of ‘normal’.  This is where it usually falls apart (if your heart has remained intact), as you increase your energy intake once again and the weight comes rebounding back. There’s a reason why WW has something like a 85% re-enrolment rate, it works. But the weight has a habit of coming back in most participants.

If you’re wanting to support your health at the same time as addressing your weight, consider making sustainable healthy lifestyle changes that you can maintain over the rest of your life.  I know, it might not sound as attractive as a quick fix extreme diet, it may not get you the results you want in 30days but it may also be a safer, more healthful means to an end.