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November 22, 2013 | 3 minute read

Small Weight Loss, Healthy Heart and Cancer Risk

Obesity and heart disease is making headlines again today with a major new analysis on how overweight and obese people can cut their risk of the disease.Fat Cells_canstockphoto2438218

Coming a week after the release of new obesity guidelines, both pieces of news highlight how a lifestyle that prevents heart disease also prevents cancer. Obesity and overweight is a cause of seven cancers.

Today’s analysis, published in The Lancet, suggests that overweight and obese people can cut their risk of a heart attack by almost half by reducing their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, even if they don’t lose weight. They can lower their risk for stroke even more, about 75 percent.

But even with these risk factors under control, if you are overweight or obese, you are still probably at higher risk of a heart attack or stroke compared to someone at a healthy weight.

In last week’s release of new guidelines for heart health, much of the news — and controversy — focused on the statin recommendations. But there were also new guidelines for both lifestyle and obesity. Alice wrote about the lifestyle recommendations last week.

The new guidelines on obesity and overweight are intended to help doctors know when their overweight patients are at increased risk for heart disease. The report was developed by a task force of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association

Task Force and The Obesity Society.

For patients, the guidelines recommend doctors check your BMI at your annual visit. If you are overweight or obese, doctors would also measure your waist, making sure to tell you that you’re at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and an earlier death.

One big change relates to how much weight people should lose to lower their risk. Normally, the standard was a 5% weight loss. The new guidelines state that when patients lose and keep off just 3 to 5% of their weight that will pay off into meaningful health benefits. Greater weight loss produces greater benefits.

“Since changes in cardiovascular risk factors, insulin levels, etc. can occur much more quickly than can development of cancer, these studies from outside the cancer field allow us to see potential,” says Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, AICR’s Nutrition Advisor and an expert on lifestyle links for both cancer and heart disease.

“This adds to the base from which we can say it’s likely that small losses — even if one can’t get to the lowest BMI’s [that are] linked with LOWEST cancer risk — can make a difference.”

For cancer risk, it’s clear that being at a healthy weight lowers the risk for many cancers. There are several possible reasons why excess body fat may promote cancer. For example, excess body fat links to high blood sugar, one of the risk factors noted in the analysis. And consistently high blood sugar can create conditions that spur cancer growth. We talked about that in a piece on eating a high glycemic load diet, which raises blood sugar.

To read about eating to prevent both heart disease and cancer risk, Karen talks about that here: Eating to Prevent Heart Disease and Cancer.

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