Background: It is currently unknown whether dietary weight loss interventions can induce regression of carotid atherosclerosis.
Methods and results: In a 2-year Dietary Intervention Randomized Controlled Trial-Carotid (DIRECT-Carotid) study, participants were randomized to low-fat, Mediterranean, or low-carbohydrate diets and were followed for changes in carotid artery intima-media thickness, measured with standard B-mode ultrasound, and carotid vessel wall volume (VWV), measured with carotid 3D ultrasound. Of 140 complete images of participants (aged 51 years; body mass index, 30 kg/m(2); 88% men), higher baseline carotid VWV was associated with increased intima-media thickness, age, male sex, baseline weight, blood pressure, and insulin levels (P<0.05 for all). After 2 years of dietary intervention, we observed a significant 5% regression in mean carotid VWV (-58.1 mm(3;) 95% confidence interval, -81.0 to -35.1 mm(3); P<0.001), with no differences in the low-fat, Mediterranean, or low-carbohydrate groups (-60.69 mm(3), -37.69 mm(3), -84.33 mm(3), respectively; P=0.28). Mean change in intima-media thickness was -1.1% (P=0.18). A reduction in the ratio of apolipoprotein B(100) to apolipoprotein A1 was observed in the low-carbohydrate compared with the low-fat group (P=0.001). Participants who exhibited carotid VWV regression (mean decrease, -128.0 mm(3); 95% confidence interval, -148.1 to -107.9 mm(3)) compared with participants who exhibited progression (mean increase, +89.6 mm(3); 95% confidence interval, +66.6 to +112.6 mm(3)) had achieved greater weight loss (-5.3 versus -3.2 kg; P=0.03), greater decreases in systolic blood pressure (-6.8 versus -1.1 mm Hg; P=0.009) and total homocysteine (-0.06 versus +1.44 mumol/L; P=0.04), and a higher increase of apolipoprotein A1 (+0.05 versus -0.00 g/L; P=0.06). In multivariate regression models, only the decrease in systolic blood pressure remained a significant independent modifiable predictor of subsequent greater regression in both carotid VWV (beta=0.23; P=0.01) and intima-media thickness (beta=0.28; P=0.008) levels.
Conclusions: Two-year weight loss diets can induce a significant regression of measurable carotid VWV. The effect is similar in low-fat, Mediterranean, or low-carbohydrate strategies and appears to be mediated mainly by the weight loss-induced decline in blood pressure. Clinical Trial Registration- http://www.clinicaltrials.gov. Unique Identifier: NCT00160108.