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Recent Study: High Body Fat Protects Women from Heart Diseases

Recent Study: High Body Fat Protects Women from Heart Diseases

For the longest time, the rules in promoting heart health have been quite solid and consistent: have a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and achieve a healthy weight. But a recent study suggests that women shouldn’t simply focus on weight loss. Is it true that high body fat protects women from cardiovascular diseases? Here’s how fat affects the heart.

Women with high body fat and muscle mass have lower risk of CVD-related deaths

Here’s the thing: it seems like high body fat reduces a woman’s risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases (CVD) if it occurs alongside high muscle mass. To explain further, here are the crucial points of the study(1):

  • The researchers extracted two kinds of information from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). One was the body composition data from 1999 to 2004, and the other was the CVD-related deaths from 1999 to 2014.
  • The data came from more than 10,000 male and female participants aged 20 and above.
  • For the body mass data, they divided the participants into four groups: those with a) high muscle mass and high body fat, b) low muscle mass and low body fat, c) high muscle mass and low body fat, and d) low muscle mass and high body fat.

They then connected the body mass data to the CVD-related death information. They found that women with high body fat and high muscle mass are 42% less likely to die from cardiovascular conditions than women with low muscle mass and low body fat.

What’s even more interesting is that women who had high body mass and low body fat didn’t appear to have a significant advantage.

Among men, the results were different

Results from the analysis showed that men with high muscle mass and high body fat decreased their risk of dying from heart diseases by 26%. However, those with high muscle mass and low body fat decreased their risk by 60%.

This indicates a significant difference between men and women when it comes to cardiovascular mortality.

What does this imply?

Does the result indicate that body fat affects the heart positively? Not really. After all, there are already numerous studies explaining how excessive fat affects the heart in negative ways.

Furthermore, the investigators arrived at their conclusion only after they adjusted certain factors like cholesterol levels, prediabetes and diabetes, and high blood pressure.

how fat affects the heart

The idea that women are more protected against CVD-related deaths if they have high muscle mass and body fat still has value.

It points to the possible need to shift focus: from losing weight to building mass.

Moreover, they highlight the importance of sex-appropriate guidelines, noting the difference between the results from males and females.

The long-standing rule: excessive body fat is dangerous to the heart

As we wait for further developments regarding the study, let’s focus on the one thing that experts are confident in: excessive body fat is dangerous to the heart.

Obesity can trigger a spike in bad cholesterol levels. It can also lead to hypertension and diabetes. Unfortunately, all these conditions make it harder for the heart to work, increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Finally, don’t forget that fat distribution matters, too.

In one report, experts noted that abdominal obesity was more “strongly and consistently” predictive of coronary artery diseases than body mass index. This further explains why many doctors ask people to be mindful of their belly fat.

Key Takeaways

  • A recent study shows that high body fat along with high muscle mass affects the heart positively; it reduces the risk of cardiovascular-related deaths in women.
  • Researchers emphasize that the results show the need to shift focus: from losing weight to building mass.
  • However, the long-standing rule still applies: excessive body fat is dangerous for the heart. Reports indicate that obesity can lead to hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
  • Fat distribution also matters: abdominal obesity is consistently and strongly predictive of coronary artery disease.

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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

1) In women, higher body fat may protect against heart disease death, study shows https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/03/210316183651.htm#:~:text=A%20new%20study%20shows%20that,than%20women%20with%20less%20fat. Accessed March 22, 2021 Gender differences in cardiovascular disease https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590093519300256 Accessed March 22, 2021 Body Fat Distribution and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Men and Women in the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition in Norfolk Cohort https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/circulationaha.106.673756 Accessed March 22, 2021 Fight fat to help your heart https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/fight-fat-to-help-your-heart Accessed March 22, 2021 Three Ways Obesity Contributes to Heart Disease https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/metabolic-and-bariatric-surgery-blog/2019/march/obesity-and-heart-disease#:~:text=Obese%20individuals%20require%20more%20blood,more%20common%20for%20obese%20individuals. Accessed March 22, 2021
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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Mar 25
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel