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Patients diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and who have a high muscle mass and a low fat mass, seem to have a lower mortality risk than those patients with other body compositions.

In previous studies examining the relationship between body composition and mortality, it was found that muscle mass had shown to have a protective effect on a healthy person's metabolism and mortality. This study was done using the bio electrical impedance scale, but data from a new study was used which incorporated a more rigorous method to measure body composition called dual X-ray absorptiometry

The study

Researchers from the University of Los Angeles, California have analyzed data which has shown that patients with known cardiovascular disease, and who have a low fat mass together with a high muscle mass, have a lower mortality risk than those patients with cardiovascular disease and other body compositions. The research findings also suggested that a higher muscle mass, regardless of the patient's fat mass, aids in reducing the patient's mortality risk

The researchers analyzed data, from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 1999-2004, of nearly 6,500 participants who were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. The participants were then divided into 4 groups, namely:

  • Low fat/low muscle mass.
  • Low fat/high muscle mass.
  • High fat/low muscle mass.
  • High fat/high muscle mass.

The findings

It was determined that the low fat/high muscle mass group showed the lowest risk of cardiovascular as well as total mortality. Since the patients with a higher muscle mass would also have higher body mass index (BMI) values, then this would explain the "obesity paradox" which explains that people with higher BMI values have a higher mortality risk.

Clinical significance of the study

These findings have shown the importance of trying to maintain muscle mass instead of just focusing on weight loss in order to improve and prolong one's quality of life, especially in patients with known cardiovascular disease.

Health care professionals should then encourage their patients that any weight loss attempt should be coupled together with resistance and strength training exercises. Combining strength training and aerobic exercises would then offer the best benefit by increasing muscle mass and reducing fat mass, respectively. 

Complications of cardiovascular disease

If muscle mass isn't improved then the following are possible complications which can affect a patient.

  • Myocardial infarction - more commonly known as a heart-attack, the coronary arteries of the heart narrow or become obstructed thereby reducing blood flow to the heart. This results in decreased oxygen to the heart muscle and this causes damage to the tissue.
  • Cardiac failure - the heart doesn't pump properly anymore and blood flow to the rest of the body is compromised.
  • Cerebrovascular incident - better known as a stroke, narrowing or obstruction to arteries supplying the brain causes decreased blood flow to this organ. The result is that the brain tissue gets damaged which can be irreversible.
  • Peripheral artery disease - hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) can lead to peripheral artery disease. Here the peripheral areas of the body, most commonly the legs, don't receive enough blood flow. The result is that symptoms such as claudication (pain when walking) can occur. The obstruction can be severe enough to cause total blood flow blockage which ultimately results in amputation of the limb.
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