#AF-006 Can Weight Loss Cure A-Fib?
Dr. John Day
Dr. Day is a cardiologist specializing in heart rhythm abnormalities at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
Can Weight Loss Cure A-Fib, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, and Heart Disease?
Did you see the recent media reports about this study? Not only did weight loss alone cure atrial fibrillation (A-Fib) but it also cure diabetes, high blood, pressure, high cholesterol, and reversed previous heart damage!
In my opinion, this was the biggest study to emerge from the largest cardiac medical conference in the world, the annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology. All of my colleagues at the meeting were actively discussing the implications of this study.
The Obesity and A-Fib Epidemic
The United States is at the epicenter of both the obesity and the atrial fibrillation (A-Fib) epidemic. Carrying extra weight puts a significant stress on the heart which makes it very common for overweight patients to go into A-Fib. Perhaps this is why A-Fib is 10 times more common in the U.S. than in Asia.
The LEGACY Study
In the LEGACY Study, my friend Dr. Prash Sanders from Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia, enrolled 355 overweight A-Fib patients in this weight loss study. To get into the study, you had to have a body mass index of 27 or higher (25 or higher is considered overweight).
To put this BMI number into practical terms, the average weight of the patients participation in this study was approximately 220 pounds. They divided these patients into 3 groups depending on how successful they were at losing and maintaining the weight loss. Specifically, I would like to focus on what happened to the 38% of the patients who successfully lost an average of 36 pounds and kept that weight off for one to two years.
Weight Loss Cures Half of Overweight A-Fib Patients
The biggest message of the LEGACY Study is that half of A-Fib patients can be cured by weight loss alone. Indeed, with just a 36 pound weight loss, 46% of A-Fib patients had their arrhythmias go into remission without medications or procedures. Even in those who were not able to drive their A-Fib into remission, those who could lose an average of 36 pounds had a 6-fold decrease in their A-Fib burden.
7 Other Benefits of Losing 36 Pounds
In addition to a 50/50 chance of putting their A-Fib in remission, those who lost an average of 36 pounds in this study also had the following 7 additional benefits. These benefits may even be more beneficial for their health and longevity than just putting A-Fib into remission.
1. 18 Point Reduction in Blood Pressure
Considering that the average blood pressure medication only lowers your blood pressure by 5 t0 10 points (mmHg), dropping your blood pressure by 18 points with simply losing 36 pounds is amazing. What is even better is that patients dramatically lowered their blood pressure without the nasty side effects that often come from medications!
2. Inflammation Reduced by 76%
C-reactive protein (hsCRP) is a blood test that measures inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a major cause of heart disease, dementia, and aging. With a 36 pound weight loss, these patients were able to drop their average dangerous CRP level of 5.1 mg/L to a much safer value of 1.2 mg/L.
The goal CRP level for everyone is less than 1 mg/L. While these patients did not quite hit this target, their average CRP came very close. To help put things in perspective, someone with a CRP of 3.0 mg/L or higher has 3 times the risk of a heart attack than someone with a CRP of less than 1 mg/L.
3. 88% Cured of Diabetes
Diabetes is one of the most disabling conditions. It causes blindness, amputations, kidney failure, heart attacks, dementia, and takes about 8 years off your life. The good news is that, according to the LEGACY Study, 88% of the time people can be cured of diabetes with just losing 36 pounds!
4. Significant Cholesterol Reduction
The primary treatment for people with high cholesterol is to take a statin drug. Considering that this recent study showed that statin users are 46% more likely to develop diabetes, this is enough to make anyone reconsider.
An even better way to achieve all of the benefits of statins, without any of the side effects, is to simply lose 36 pounds if you are overweight. From the LEGACY Study, losing 36 pounds resulted in a 16% reduction in LDL (bad cholesterol) and a 31% reduction in triglycerides.
5. Cure an Enlarged Heart
An enlarged heart can be very dangerous. An enlarged left atrium can lead to A-Fib. An enlarged left ventricle can lead to heart failure and cardiac arrest. Losing 36 pounds resulted in the left atrium shrinking by 18% and the left ventricle coming down 8% in size.
Once again, this is very good news. It shows that it is never too late to reverse heart damage!
6. Reverse a Thickened Heart Muscle
We like big muscles everywhere in the body except for the heart. If the heart muscle becomes to big the heart thickens and may have difficulties pumping. In this study, patients were able to decrease the thickness of their hearts by 14%.
7. Better Quality of Life
At the end of the day the real goal in treating A-Fib is to prevent strokes and improve quality of life. In this study, losing 36 pounds not only cured half of the patients from A-Fib but also resulted in a 200% improvement in their quality of life!
Can Weight Loss Cure A-Fib?
To get back to our original question, can weight loss cure A-Fib, I hope the answer by now is a resounding “yes.” This well designed clinical study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that there is indeed hope for A-Fib patients!
Not only will half of overweight A-Fib patients be cured with just a 36 pound weight loss but most will also be cured from high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and other forms of heart disease.
Does the LEGACY Study inspire you to get down to an ideal weight?
Please work with your physician to determine if you should lose weight and what your target weight should be. Also, while weight loss may cure you of many chronic medical conditions, the results do not happen overnight. It took 1-2 years for the patients in the LEGACY Study to experience these benefits. Thus, continued medications may be required until your target weight is achieved. Please do not self diagnose or treat based on anything you have read in this article.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.
What if I am not over weight what are my options?
While carrying extra weight is a significant risk factor for Afib, there can be other causes as well. Stress, sleep, diet, high blood pressure, lack of exercise or extreme levels of exercising, other conditions such as thyroid disease etc. may also play a role. If there is truly nothing that can be reversed, it may be due to genetics or random event during the aging process. I suspect that 10-20% of all cases of Afib may not have a reversible cause.
Hope this helps!