Heart failure is a condition in which the heart becomes unable to effectively pump blood around the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 5.7 million adults in the United States live with heart failure.
This condition is not normally curable, and it requires appropriate treatment for long-term management. This is why prevention is preferable, so researchers are constantly working to identify potential risks and ways of avoiding them.
New research from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, NY, has now revealed that individuals who follow a mostly plant-based diet have a significantly reduced likelihood of developing heart failure.
First study author Dr. Kyla Lara and her colleagues presented their findings at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2017, held in Anaheim, CA.
Plant-based diet fits 'heart-healthy lifestyle'
The scientists analyzed the medical data of 15,569 participants in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke longitudinal study, involving both white and black U.S. adults over 45 years of age.
All of these participants were free from coronary artery disease and heart failure when they joined the study. They were recruited between 2003 and 2007 and were followed for health outcomes until 2013.
The new research was spurred by existing studies that emphasized the role of diet in the onset of atherosclerosis, which is characterized by a buildup of fat in the arteries, leading to a narrowing down of the channel through which blood can circulate.
In their study, Dr. Lara and team focused on the impact of diet on the likelihood of developing heart failure in the case of healthy individuals with no previous history of heart disease.
During the median 2,892 days of follow-up, 300 cases of heart failure-related hospitalization were reported among the cohort of study participants.
The dietary patterns that they were following were recorded using food frequency questionnaires, and five distinct categories were established. These were:
- convenience, which is a diet consisting mainly of red meats, pasta, fried potatoes, and fast food-type foods
- plant-based, which includes dark, leafy vegetables, as well as whole grains, fruits, beans, and fish
- sweets, which is predominantly desserts, bread, chocolate, candy, and sweet breakfast foods
- southern, consisting mainly of eggs, fried foods, organ meats, processed meats, and sugar-rich, sweetened beverages
- alcohol/salads, which includes salad dressings, green, leafy vegetables, tomatoes, butter, wine, and liquors
The researchers found that study participants who adhered to a predominantly plant-based diet — rich in vegetables and whole grain foods — were the least likely to develop heart failure in time.
"Eating a diet mostly of dark green leafy plants, fruits, beans, whole grains, and fish, while limiting processed meats, saturated fats, trans fats, refined carbohydrates, and foods high in added sugars is a heart-healthy lifestyle and may specifically help prevent heart failure if you don't already have it."
Dr. Kyla Lara
The other four dietary patterns were not associated with either an increase or a decrease in the risk of developing the medical condition.
To ensure consistency, the results were adjusted for confounding variables, such as age, sex, race, and relevant risk factors for heart failure.
Dr. Lara and her colleagues nevertheless warn that the association they observed may only be correlational and therefore not necessarily indicative of a causal relationship.