Sticking to a plant-rich diet that can reduce high blood pressure may also lower the risk of heart failure in people under the age of 75.
This was the conclusion of a study that a team at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC, led to assess the impact of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan on heart failure.
They report their findings in a paper that now features in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are around 5.7 million adults with heart failure in the United States.
The condition arises when the heart continues to beat but cannot pump blood as well as it should.
The result is that organs and tissues do not get the oxygen and nutrients they need to function properly and remain healthy.
“Heart failure is a frequent cause of hospitalization in older adults and is associated with substantial healthcare costs, so identifying modifiable risk factors [for] heart failure is an important public health goal,” says lead study author Dr. Claudia L. Campos, an associate professor of general internal medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
The DASH eating plan is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as beans, nuts, low-fat or fat-free dairy, poultry, fish, and vegetable oils.
It is low in saturated fats, full-fat dairy, fatty and red meats, salt, sugary drinks, sweets, and tropical oils such as those from coconut and palm.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) promote DASH as part of a “heart-healthy lifestyle” that includes exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, not drinking too much alcohol, managing stress, not smoking, and sleeping well.
Although much of it is similar to the Mediterranean diet, DASH differs in that it emphasizes low-fat dairy and completely excludes alcohol.
The new investigation follows another that also reported that a plant-based diet could cut the risk of heart failure. However, that study focused on people who were aged 45, on average, while the new one examined older adults.
The researchers analyzed records from The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), which enrolled men and women at six clinics in different universities across the U.S.
The participants were aged 45–84 when they joined in 2000–2002. None had any cardiovascular diseases at that time. MESA tracked them from that point, noting any incidences of cardiovascular health conditions, including heart failure.
The analysis used data covering 13 years of follow-up on 4,478 participants. Dietary data came from the participants’ responses to 120-item questionnaires on consumption frequency and amounts of various foods and drinks.
The researchers grouped the participants into five sets, each comprising 20% of the cohort, and ranked them according to how closely their eating pattern matched that of DASH. They then examined the incidence of heart failure across the sets of participants.
The results showed that for all the participants, sticking to the DASH eating plan seemed to have little significant effect on heart failure risk. However, when they took out participants aged 75 and over, the researchers saw a pattern.
The rate of heart failure was 40% lower in people under 75 who most closely followed the DASH eating plan, compared with those who followed it the least.
Dr. Campos says that their findings establish a basis for further studies to explore whether adopting the DASH eating plan could effectively prevent heart failure.
“This research showed that following the DASH diet can reduce the risk of developing heart failure by almost half, which is better than any medicine.”
Dr. Claudia L. Campos