February 7, 2005

Journal Article by UAMS Cardiology Professors, Staff Compares Fad Diets, Healthy Eating

LITTLE ROCK – After comparing numerous studies of diets that claim to be heart-healthy, doctors at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) determined in a recent article in The American Journal of Cardiology that there is no silver bullet for fighting coronary heart disease, but there are healthy changes that can reduce the risks.



February is American Heart Month, a time to raise awareness of coronary heart disease, the nation’s second leading killer after cancer.  Heart disease has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, yet the medical community often gives mixed signals as to which diets can improve heart health. 


 “There is no ‘one-size fits all’ diet for heart health,” explained Jay Mehta, M.D., Ph.D., director of the division of cardiovascular medicine and professor of internal medicine, physiology and biophysics in the UAMS College of Medicine.



Mehta found that doctors themselves cannot agree on the best diet and that all the diets reviewed had shortcomings. He said that overall Americans must be willing to make lifestyle changes in order to reverse the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes.



“It was only two to three decades ago that people walked to work when they could and ate to live. Today, we live to eat and take an automobile wherever we need to go, even around the corner, and park as close as possible to the entrance to the store,” Mehta said.


Y. Wady Aude, M.D., director of coronary care units and assistant professor of internal medicine, and Georges Chahoud, M.D., instructor in the College of Medicine, also contributed to the article, which ran in the Nov. 15 issue.



These cardiologists reviewed several studies of low-fat, low-carbohydrate and balanced diets, including the Ornish Diet, Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet, Mediterranean Diet, and the American Heart Association’s dietary recommendations. They compared the amounts of fat allowed on each diet, the types of fatty acids present in the foods consumed and the effects the diets had on the health of the studies’ participants.



The physicians concluded that in some cases low-fat diets did significantly lower the incidences of coronary heart disease, improve cholesterol levels and lead to weight loss, but these diets were difficult for people to maintain for an extended amount of time. Low-fat diets also had the potential side effect of metabolic syndrome.



Low-carbohydrate diets lowered cholesterol and contributed to short-term weight loss, but studies provided no evidence towards their ability to lower the risk of coronary heart disease. They also had the potential side effects of gout, renal disorders, hair loss, constipation and bad breath. Like low-fat diets, low-carbohydrate diets were also considered difficult to maintain for long periods of time.



More balanced diets, like the American Heart Association’s dietary recommendations, showed evidence of lowering the risk of coronary heart disease, though with less of an effect than low-fat diets. Balanced diets faired better in their ability to lower triglycerides and total cholesterol while increasing the HDL, or good cholesterol. Significant weight loss is not shown as an effect of balanced diets, although balanced diets are easier to maintain for longer periods of time. Mehta said the only downfall of balanced diets is the higher cost of fresh, healthy foods, as many people will give up eating healthy in order to eat within their budget.



UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has approximately 2,200 students and 660 residents and is the state’s largest public employer with almost 9,000 employees. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact of $4.1 billion a year on the state of Arkansas.



The UAMS Centers of Excellence are the Arkansas Cancer Research Center, the Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, and the Jackson T. Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute.