Yo-Yo Dieting Hikes Risk for Sudden Cardiac Death, CHD Mortality in Women

Woman weighing herself on a scale
Woman weighing herself on a scale
Postmenopausal women whose weight fluctuated due to dieting had a significantly higher risk for death from sudden cardiac death and coronary heart disease.

NEW ORLEANS — Postmenopausal women who experience weight cycling as a result of yo-yo dieting have a higher risk of sudden cardiac death and mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD), according to research presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2016.1

“Weight cycling is an emerging global health concern associated with attempts of weight loss, but there have been inconsistent results about the health hazards for those who experience weight cycling behavior,” Somwail Rasla, MD, lead study author and internal medicine resident at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island and Alpert Medical School, Brown University in Providence, stated in a press release.2

Dr Rasla and colleagues used prospective data on weight from 158,063 postmenopausal women from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) who had recorded their weight as stable, steady gain, weight loss, and weight cycling, according to the abstract.

The researchers defined sudden cardiac death in the study as “a sudden loss of consciousness within 1 hour of the onset of symptoms with a documented loss of pulse in a previously stable individual without evidence of non-cardiac cause of the arrest.”1 Mortality from CHD was determined by physician review of a patient’s medical records.

Over 11.4 years of follow-up, there were 2526 deaths due to CHD and 83 deaths from sudden cardiac death across 1,798,063 person-years.1 Women who were considered normal weight when enrolled in the study and experienced weight cycling had a higher risk of sudden cardiac death (hazard ratio [HR]: 3.44; 95% CI, 1.25-9.45) and CHD (HR: 1.66, 95% CI, 1.38-2.01) mortality compared with women with a consistently stable weight through the study period.1 However, this association was not seen in women who were overweight (HR: 0.91; 95% CI, 0.40-2.09) or obese (HR: 1.01; 95% CI, 0.34-3.03).1

The study was also not without limitations. These included its observational nature, self-reporting of data, and the infrequent occurrence of sudden cardiac death.

“This study adds to the literature that weight cycling maybe harmful due to fluctuations in inflammatory and other metabolic products even in normal-weight women. These data obtained were from self-reported weight cycling in adulthood prior to menopause and not from actual measurements. The number of cases with sudden cardiac death is relatively small and therefore chance findings could explain our results; however, we see a similar pattern in CHD mortality, which has a larger numbers of cases,” Dr Rasla  told Endocrinology Advisor.

Ultimately, while interesting, the findings require further investigation.

“In normal-weight women between the ages of 55 and 79, women with a history of weight cycling compared to women who had a history of stable weight, were associated with greater risk of sudden cardiac death and CHD mortality. More research needs to be performed before any recommendations can be made for clinical care regarding the risks of weight cycling,” Dr Rasla concluded.

Disclosures: The researchers report no financial disclosures.

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  1. Rasla S, Gras M, Roberts B, et al. Poster T2041. Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death and Coronary Heart Disease Mortality in Postmenopausal Women With History of Weight Cycling. Presented at: American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2016; November 12-16, 2016; New Orleans.
  2. YoYo dieting dangerous even if you’re not overweight [press release]. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Newsroom; November 15, 2016. http://newsroom.heart.org/news/Xyo-yo-dieting-dangerous-even-if-youre-not-overweight. Accessed November 15, 2016.