Low-Cal, High-Gain for Diabetes Patients

Heart function in obese patients with type 2 diabetes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Diabetes affects many parts of the body, including the heart. So, how should you protect the health of your heart if you have diabetes? The answer may lie in what you eat.

After eating a low-calorie diet for four months, obese patients with type 2 diabetes had better heart function. Eating a low-calorie diet also ended patients' dependence on insulin, a hormone that manages blood sugar levels.

"Protect your heart with a low-calorie diet."

Type 2 diabetes patients are faced with many risks to their heart health. In order to avoid these risks, doctors often prescribe medications to patients. But drugs are not the only option. Lifestyle interventions like diet and exercise can be crucial to protecting the heart health of diabetes patients.

In a recent study, Sebastiaan Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., from the Department of Radiology at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, and colleagues wanted to see if weight loss from a low-calorie diet (500 calories per day) would have an effect on obese patients with type 2 diabetes.

By eating a low-calorie diet, study participants reduced their levels of body fat and improved their heart function. More specifically, participants reduced their levels of pericardial fat - a compartment of fat around that heart that can be harmful to heart function.

On top of all that, the low-calorie diet eliminated patients' dependence on insulin therapy.

According to Dr. Hammer, lifestyle interventions - such as a diet change - may be better than drugs for protecting heart function in obese patients with diabetes. "It is striking to see how a relatively simple intervention of a very low calorie diet effectively cures type 2 diabetes mellitus," he says. "Moreover, these effects are long term, illustrating the potential of this method."

For their study, the researchers used MRI to examine heart function and pericardial fat in 15 obese patients with type 2 diabetes before and after a 500-calorie-per-day diet for four months. They also measured changes in patients' body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat.

By restricting caloric intake, participants lowered their BMI from 35.3 (obese) to 27.5 (overweight) and reduced their pericardial fat by eight milliliters. Their E/A ratio, a measure of heart function, also improved from 0.96 to 1.2.

After another 14 months, the researchers checked back with the study's participants. Even though their BMI increased back to 31.7, their pericardial fat levels increased only slightly (from 31 milliliters to 32 milliliters).

These results show that restricting calories for four months improves heart function in obese adults with type 2 diabetes, says Dr. Hammer. More importantly, he adds, a four-month low-calorie diet leads to long-term benefits for the heart, even if patients regain weight.

Dr. Hammer believes that this study highlights the importance of using imaging strategies like MRI in these types of treatments. In this study, the MRI showed all changes in the fat compartments as well as structural changes to the heart and improvements in heart function.

Even though these findings may be exciting for people with diabetes, not all patients are eligible for this kind of treatment. It is very important to talk with a doctor before starting any type of reduced calorie diet.

The study's findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. As such, the study still needs to be validated by a panel of scientific peers.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 28, 2011
Last Updated:
November 28, 2011