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Low-Fat Diet May Not Reduce Cardio Risks After Menopause

Lack of effect prompts recommendation that it be discarded as an intervention

FRIDAY, March 19 (HealthDay News) -- In postmenopausal women, a low-fat diet has little effect on cardiovascular risk factors and no overall effect on coronary heart disease and stroke, according to a study published online Feb. 17 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Barbara V. Howard, Ph.D., of the MedStar Research Institute in Hyattsville, Md., and colleagues studied subjects from a dietary modification trial from the Women's Health Initiative who were randomly assigned to either a diet lower in fat and higher in vegetables, fruit and grains, or their usual diet for a mean of 8.1 years.

After six years, the researchers found that the intervention group reported a 7.8 percent lower fat intake and a 7.6 percent higher carbohydrate intake than the comparison group. Although they found that the low-fat diet was associated with a non-significant trend toward lower rates of breast cancer and ovarian cancer (relative risks, 0.91 and 0.83, respectively), they found it had no overall effect on coronary heart disease or stroke. In most of the women, the intervention did not result in clinically meaningful increases in triglycerides or decreases in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, results that had been indicated in other studies. However, they observed that the diet might elevate triglycerides in Caucasian women with diabetes or in female diabetes patients with high triglyceride concentrations.

"If one assumes that the reported reduction in fat intake was real, the lack of effect of this diet on risk factors and on disease outcomes should lead us to discard this diet as a recommended intervention because effective alternatives exist," states the author of an accompanying editorial. "Specifically, replacement of carbohydrate or saturated fats with unsaturated fats improves cardiovascular risk factors and reduces risks of coronary heart disease."

Two study authors reported financial relationships with pharmaceutical and food companies.

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