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OBJECTIVES: Very low calorie diets (VLCDs) are effective at clearing hepatic steatosis and improving insulin sensitivity. Whilst long-term weight loss is beneficial to the cardiovascular system, the acute elevation in fatty acids during caloric restriction is potentially detrimental to cardiac metabolism and function. We sought to investigate any cardiovascular changes occurring over the course of a modern VLCD regime, alongside the expected peripheral metabolic improvements. METHODS: 25 obese volunteers (BMI 36.8 ± 5.8 kg/m2) underwent magnetic resonance imaging, echocardiography, metabolic profiling, and bio-impedance analysis before 1 and 8 weeks following a VLCD (800 kcal/day). Results were compared to 15 age- and sex-matched controls. RESULTS: After 1 week of VLCD, despite only modest weight loss, significant drops occurred in liver fat and insulin resistance (HOMA-IR; by 14-50%, all p < 0.01). In contrast, myocardial triglyceride content (MTGC) increased (by 48%, p = 0.030), and was associated with deterioration in both systolic (LVEF by 4%, p = 0.041) and diastolic function (e/e' 8.6 ± 1.4 to 9.4 ± 1.7, p = 0.019). Aortic stiffness also increased by 35% (p = 0.015). At 8 weeks, liver steatosis and visceral fat were lower than baseline (by 20-55%, p < 0.001), and peripheral metabolic improvements continued. MTGC also fell to below baseline (1.5 ± 0.6 vs 2.1 ± 1%, p = 0.05) with improved myocardial function (e/e' 8.6 ± 1.4 to 7.5 ± 1.5, p = 0.003). CONCLUSIONS: Whilst VLCDs result in dramatic improvements in insulin resistance, they are associated with transient but significant cardiovascular functional decline, which may have an impact on those with the coexisting cardiac disease. However, after 8 weeks, the diet was associated with normalisation of cardiac function, suggesting they may form a potential therapeutic intervention for diastolic dysfunction in obesity and diabetes.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Obes (Lond)

Publication Date





2536 - 2544


Adult, Blood Pressure, Caloric Restriction, Cardiomyopathies, Fatty Liver, Female, Humans, Intra-Abdominal Fat, Male, Middle Aged, Obesity, Triglycerides, Ventricular Dysfunction, Weight Loss