HEART
September 5, 2010

You Can Change Your Heart's Fate

By adjusting the diet, it's possible to reverse metabolic syndrome, the precursor to heart disease and diabetes.

According to a new study, people who have metabolic syndrome may be able to reverse it if they stick to a sensible diet, rich in whole grains, veggies, and lean meats. Metabolic syndrome affects 10-25% of the population, and puts people at greater risk for having a heart attack and developing type 2 diabetes.

Almost half of the participants had completely reversed their metabolic syndrome – that is, they no longer fell into the category of metabolic syndrome at all.

Metabolic syndrome is characterized by high levels of triglycerides (fats in the blood), low "good" or HDL cholesterol, a large waistline (too much belly fat), high blood pressure and high blood sugar. The researchers wanted to see if having participants follow healthy eating guidelines put out by Harvard’s School of Public Health might reduce or reverse metabolic syndrome. The guidelines stress eating foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean white meats, nuts, and soy; it is somewhat similar to the Mediterranean diet, which has also been shown to have a laundry list of important health benefits.

The researchers, from University College London and led by Tasnime Akbaraly, followed 339 people with metabolic syndrome whose average age was 56. The participants were asked to follow the Harvard guidelines as closely as they could for five years. At the end of this period, almost half of the participants had completely reversed their metabolic syndrome – that is, they no longer fell into the category of metabolic syndrome at all.

For people who stuck to their new routines the best, they had twice the odds of becoming free of metabolic syndrome. And those who started out with the largest waistlines or the highest triglycerides were also likely to see the greatest changes by sticking to the diet.

The team says that a larger sample size will be needed in the future, along with more precise ways of measuring food intake and participants’ activity levels. But the results are extremely encouraging, and suggest that even in middle-age, it’s fully possible to reverse metabolic syndrome and reduce one’s risk of developing some very ugly diseases.

The study was published in the July 29, 2010 online issue of Diabetes Care.

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