The effect of a low-fat, plant-based lifestyle intervention (CHIP) on serum HDL levels and the implications for metabolic syndrome status – a cohort study
1 Avondale College of Higher Education, 582 Freemans Drive (PO BOX 19), Cooranbong NSW 2265, Australia
2 Australasian Research Institute, 185 Fox Valley Rd, Wahroonga, NSW 2076, Australia
3 Medical Nutrition Therapy Northwest, 13568 SE 97th Ave. Suite 203 Clackamas, Oregon 97015, USA
4 Lifestyle Medicine Institute, PO Box 818, Loma Linda, CA 92354, USA
Nutrition & Metabolism 2013, 10:58 doi:10.1186/1743-7075-10-58Published: 1 October 2013
Low levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) are considered an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease and constitute one of the criteria for the Metabolic Syndrome (MetS). Lifestyle interventions promoting a low-fat, plant-based eating pattern appear to paradoxically reduce cardiovascular risk but also HDL levels. This study examined the changes in MetS risk factors, in particular HDL, in a large cohort participating in a 30-day lifestyle intervention that promoted a low-fat, plant-based eating pattern.
Individuals (n = 5,046; mean age = 57.3 ± 12.9 years; 33.5% men, 66.5% women) participating in a in a Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP) lifestyle intervention within the United States were assessed at baseline and 30 days for changes in body mass index (BMI), blood pressure (BP), lipid profile and fasting plasma glucose (FPG).
HDL levels decreased by 8.7% (p<0.001) despite significant reductions (p<0.001) in BMI (-3.2%), systolic BP (-5.2%), diastolic BP (-5.2%), triglycerides (TG; -7.7%), FPG (-6.3%), LDL (-13.0%), total cholesterol (TC, -11.1%), TC: HDL ratio (-3.2%), and LDL: HDL ratio (-5.3%). While 323 participants classified as having MetS at program entry no longer had this status after the 30 days, 112 participants acquired the MetS classification as a result of reduction in their HDL levels.
When people move towards a low-fat, plant-based diet, HDL levels decrease while other indicators of cardiovascular risk improve. This observation raises questions regarding the value of using HDL levels as a predictor of cardiovascular risk in populations who do not consume a typical western diet. As HDL is part of the assemblage of risk factors that constitute MetS, classifying individuals with MetS may not be appropriate in clinical practice or research when applying lifestyle interventions that promote a plant-based eating pattern.