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July 2005

Waist Size Predicts Diabetes Risk in Men

A man’s waist size may be a stronger indicator of diabetes risk than his body mass index (BMI), report researchers from several prominent universities.*

Although excess weight has long been correlated with increased risk for type II diabetes, few studies have compared the influence of central (versus overall) obesity on diabetes risk. This recent study found that abdominal adiposity (belly fat) is a strong, independent risk factor for type II diabetes. Researchers followed 27,270 men for 13 years. During that time, 884 men developed type II diabetes. Compared to men with the smallest waists (29-34 inches), men with larger waists were at least twice as likely to develop diabetes, and those with the largest waists (of 40 inches or greater) were up to 12 times more likely to develop diabetes.

“Both BMI and waist circumference are useful tools to assess health risk,” noted study lead author Dr. Youfa Wang of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “But abdominal fat measured by waist circumference can indicate a strong risk for diabetes whether or not a man is considered overweight or obese according to his BMI.” Wang added that the commonly used 40-inch waist benchmark for diabetes risk should be lowered, as many of the men who developed type II diabetes had waists measuring less than 40 inches.

Abdominal fat is associated with insulin resistance, a condition of aberrant blood sugar metabolism that often precedes diabetes.

—Elizabeth Wagner, ND


* Wang Y, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Hu FB. Comparison of abdominal adiposity and overall obesity in predicting risk of type 2 diabetes among men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Mar;81(3):555-63.

Tomatoes Protect Against Heart Failure

Abundant intake of tomatoes rich in the nutrient lycopene reduces the risk of congestive heart failure in people with gum disease, according to a recent report from the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Dentistry.*

Abundant in tomatoes and red fruits like watermelon, lycopene is a potent antioxidant and one of the most prevalent carotenoid nutrients in the Western diet and in human blood serum. Previous research has suggested that lycopene offers protection against heart disease and certain cancers, but its potential role in congestive heart failure has not been carefully examined.

In their study examining data from more than 30,000 men and women enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), researchers analyzed dietary and blood laboratory data of participants with periodontitis (gum disease) in relation to their medical history of congestive heart failure. In subjects with periodontitis, monthly dietary intake of fewer than nine tomatoes raised the risk of congestive heart failure by 2-3.5 times, and intake of less than three tomatoes increased risk even more. Above-average serum levels of lycopene significantly reduced the risk of congestive heart failure. Higher levels of serum lycopene also were correlated with lower levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker associated with cardiovascular disease risk.

The study authors concluded that periodontitis is related to risk of congestive heart failure, and that high intake of tomatoes may mitigate this risk. While lycopene may facilitate this risk reduction, possibly by reducing levels of C-reactive protein, other beneficial nutrients found in tomatoes—such as vitamins C and A, folate, potassium, and bioflavonoids—may may also contribute to tomatoes’ heart-protective benefits in those with gum disease.

—Nelson Wood, DMD, DSc, MS


* Wood N, Johnson RB. The relationship between tomato intake and congestive heart failure risk in periodontitis subjects. J Clin Periodontol. 2004 Jul;31(7):574-80.

Cranberries Improve Function in Damaged Blood Vessels

A daily dose of cranberry powder restores blood vessel health in animals with high cholesterol and atherosclerosis, according to research presented at the 35th Congress of the International Union of Physiological Sciences, held in San Diego, CA, in April 2005.*

Previous studies have suggested that cranberry juice may support cardiovascular health by boosting levels of beneficial HDL (high-density lipoprotein). Dr. Kris Krus-Elliott of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine presented evidence that cranberry extract may help to reduce the risk of developing heart disease and protect those who already have atherosclerosis from heart attack and stroke.

In their study, Dr. Krus-Elliott and her team used pigs bred to serve as an animal model of familial high cholesterol. The animals’ blood vessels do not function normally, and the pigs generally develop atherosclerosis (thickening and hardening of the arteries) at an early age. This chain of events is similar to heart disease progression in humans.

The animals were fed a daily dose of cranberry juice powder (150 grams of powder per kilogram of body weight) for six months. At the study’s end, the cranberry-supplemented pigs with high cholesterol displayed blood vessel function that was more like normal pigs. Pigs with high cholesterol that did not receive the cranberry supplement had significantly less vascular relaxation than the normal or cranberry-fed pigs.

Dr. Krus-Elliott commented, “Since the abnormal functioning of blood vessels is an important component of heart disease, finding ways to improve vascular function in patients with high cholesterol and atherosclerosis is critical to helping protect these patients from consequences such as heart attack or stroke. The value of fruits and vegetables in our diet has recently been an area of intense research, and studies like this help us to understand the specific mechanisms by which the nutrients we consume can protect against heart disease.”

—Elizabeth Wagner, ND


* Available at: Accessed April 19, 2005.