If you’re otherwise healthy, is just being overweight a health risk? That’s what a team of researchers recently set out to discover. That’s because studies have bounced back and forth on this issue for a while. What they found may surprise some of the patients I talk to every day.
Coronary Heart Disease
Coronary heart disease (CHD) occurs when a blockage starts to form in a vessel (e.g., via plaque and narrowing, for example, due to inflammation). This is called atherosclerosis, and when this happens blood flow slows or becomes sluggish, and over time, the blockage can get bigger and bigger. Eventually, a full blockage can form or the plaque built up in the artery can burst like a pimple. When it bursts and begins traveling through the vessel, this can form a blood clot (or embolus), which can block another vessel, instantly stopping blood flow to the heart or elsewhere. When the heart can’t get blood, a heart attack and even sudden death can occur. Incidentally, when the blockage occurs in a vessel supplying blood to the brain, a stroke can result.
While it’s been known for some time that being overweight carries additional heart disease risk, some earlier studies have suggested that being overweight and active conveys less heart risk. Now a new study suggests that even being overweight and “healthy” increases the risk of heart disease.
Overweight Heart Disease Risk Is Greater Regardless of Health
The new study was a cohort analysis that consisted of over half a million subjects in ten countries. Subjects fell into one of five groups: 1) healthy normal weight, 2) unhealthy normal weight, 3) unhealthy overweight, 4) unhealthy obese, and 5) metabolically healthy overweight and obese. Overweight was defined as a BMI 25–30, while obese was defined as a BMI over 30. A subject was considered healthy when no more than two of the following metabolic-profile markers existed: 37” or greater waist (men) or 31” or greater waist (women), high blood pressure, high blood glucose, high triglycerides, or low HDL cholesterol.
The results? The risk of heart disease in those who were unhealthy (≥ 3 metabolic markers above), regardless of weight, more than doubled, which was to be expected. The more telling result here was that the subjects in the healthy overweight and obese group had a 26% and 28% increase, respectively, in the risk of heart disease when compared to the healthy normal weight group.
Other Problems Associated with Being Overweight
Overweight heart disease risk isn’t the only problem associated with obesity. There are many reasons to lose weight or not gain it in the first place, including the following:
- Joint stress—Being overweight puts more stress on the joints, specifically hips, knees, ankles, and feet, and can lead to arthritis. In addition, arthritis may also be a risk factor for CHD.
- Leptin knee arthritis—The hormone leptin turns off when our hunger is satiated to tell us we’re full; overeating causes that leptin signal to decline, so we just keep pumping out more leptin. One study found more leptin in the knee joints in early arthritis.
- Gut bacteria—Obesity can lead to leaky gut and bad bacteria in the gut.
The upshot? Losing some weight may help you reduce your heart attack risk! It may also help reduce your arthritis risk as well.