In a new study, researchers found that the risk of atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heartbeat) is not linked to the amount of body fat, but instead to large muscle mass, or more precisely, a high fat-free weight.
The research was conducted by a team from Aarhus University.
Atrial fibrillation affects as many as one in three persons in the industrialized/Western world during a lifespan.
And when it comes to preventing the condition, the medical doctor’s best advice is often weight loss.
However, this shows that the risk of atrial fibrillation is not linked to the amount of fat, but rather to the fat-free weight.
The team did a review of the literature on the importance of body fat and fat-free mass for the risk of atrial fibrillation, and they also ran a meta-analysis which summarizes the results of all relevant studies in the field.
They found while it’s correct that overweight individuals have a clearly elevated risk of atrial fibrillation, there is no clear evidence that fat is important when the team adjusted for these individuals’ high fat-free mass.
Conversely, it appears that people with high fat-free weight do have a high risk, regardless of whether they have a lot of fat on their bodies or not.
The team says large muscle mass is likely seen as the opposite of high body fat, but it turns out that to some extent, the same people have a lot of both.
And when these people have a high risk of atrial fibrillation, scientists tend to interpret it as proof that too much fat is harmful.
According to the researcher, many people have undiagnosed atrial fibrillation.
The results point to the importance of remembering to also look for this condition in people who are muscular and without overwhelming body fat—even though they appear to be very healthy and robust.
However, the team emphasizes that the results encompass only the risk of atrial fibrillation and do not gainsay that too much body fat increases the incidence of infarctions, diabetes, and many other health problems.
The lead author of the study is Senior Researcher at the Research Unit for General Practice, Morten Fenger-Grøn.
The study is published in the journal Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine.
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