Being 'pear-shaped' could help protect against heart disease in postmenopausal women

PHOTO: Unsplash

New US research suggests that postmenopausal women who carry weight around their middle, known as 'apple-shaped,' may have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease than 'pear-shaped' women who carry weight in their legs, even if body weight is normal.

Led by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, the new study looked at 2,683 women with a normal body mass index (BMI) who were free of cardiovascular disease at the start of the research, and followed them for an average of nearly 18 years.

The participants' fat mass was measured using a DXA scan (Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry), which measures fat, muscle and bone density.

The findings, published in the European Heart Journal, showed that after taking into account potentially influencing factors, women in the top 25 per cent of those who stored most of their fat around their middle (apple-shaped) had nearly double the risk of heart problems and stroke when compared to the 25 per cent of women with the least fat stored around their middle.

However, women in the top 25 per cent of those who stored most fat in their legs had a 40 per cent lower risk of CVD compared with women who stored the least fat in their legs.

The researchers also found that women who had the highest percentage of fat around their middle and the lowest percentage of leg fat had the highest risk of CVD, showing a more than three-fold increased risk compared to women with the opposite extreme of fat distribution.

After making their calculations the team estimated that, among 1000 women who kept their leg fat constant but reduced the proportion of fat around the middle from more than 37 per cent to less than 27 per cent, approximately six CVD cases could be avoided each year.

Among 1000 women who kept their fat around the middle constant but increased their leg fat from less than 42 per cent to more than 49 per cent, approximately three CVD cases could be avoided each year.

The new study is the first study to look at the association between where fat is stored in the body and the risk of CVD in postmenopausal women with normal BMI, which is defined at 18.5 to less than 25 kg/m2.

However, the researchers stress that the findings only show that where body fat is stored is associated with the risk of CVD, not a causal relationship.

Lead author Dr. Qibin Qi also added that "it is important to note that participants of our study were postmenopausal women who had relatively higher fat mass in both their trunk and leg regions. Whether the pattern of the associations could be generalizable to younger women and to men who had relatively lower regional body fat remains unknown."

Purchase this article for republication.