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What Are The Risks Linked To Fluctuating Body Weight?

Medical Daily logo Medical Daily 7/10/2018 Medical Daily Staff

Yo-Yo © Yo-Yo Yo-Yo A study finds risks associated with those who experience fluctuations in weight, blood pressure, cholesterol etc. compared to those whose measurements are relatively stable.

People who experience strong fluctuations in weight among other measurements were linked to an elevated risk of heart problems and death from any cause. This was when they were compared to people whose measurements were more stable over the years.

The study titled "Associations of Variability in Blood Pressure, Glucose, and Cholesterol Concentrations, and Body Mass Index with Mortality and Cardiovascular Outcomes in the General Population" was published in the journal Circulation on Oct. 1.

Researchers from the Catholic University of Korea in Seoul examined a large collection of national data on 6,748,773 individuals. None of them was found to have previous heart attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol at the beginning of the study. 

From 2005 to 2012, all the participants underwent at least three health examinations that involved measurements of their body weight, fasting blood sugar, systolic (top number) blood pressure and total cholesterol.

Compared to those whose measurements were relatively stable throughout the period, those who experienced the highest amount of variability (i.e. fluctuations in their measurements) were 127 percent more likely to die, 43 percent more likely to have a heart attack, and 41 percent more likely to have a stroke. 

According to senior author Dr. Seung-Hwan Lee, doctors should not only note fluctuations in body weight but also pay attention to variability in measurements of blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels. "Trying to stabilize these measurements may be an important step in helping them improve their health," the professor said.

The study was observational, which means they could not prove whether the fluctuations were directly responsible for the increased risk of heart problems and death from any cause.

But similar research from the past has also found a correlation, seemingly independent of traditional risk factors. Experts say this could be explained by the effect on endothelial cells which become damaged when the body loses and gains weight frequently. In turn, this affects the way blood flows through the vessels, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The process of losing and gaining weight in such a manner is known as weight cycling, typically a result of yo-yo dieting. This eating pattern is not endorsed by some health researchers as it has been linked to a number of harmful side effects.

For example, an Australian study suggested yo-yo dieting could cause changes in the composition of our gut microbiota. In the long run, such disruption may affect metabolism, immunity, and increase the risk of chronic conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. Another study suggested that bone loss could occur in postmenopausal women and the density may not return even after they gain the weight back.

Psychological well-being may also suffer as the individual may feel frustrated, almost as if they are constantly failing to keep their weight steady. And since this pattern could involve a cycle of deprivation and binge-eating, susceptible individuals are at risk of developing an eating disorder. 

However, one review does state that there is insufficient evidence on the harms of weight cycling, as most studies are observational or tend to involve rodents. Since there is no single definition of what constitutes weight cycling, researchers find it challenging to outline the specific effects of yo-yo eating patterns.

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