How to live longer: DASH diet shown to cut the risk of heart failure by ‘almost half’

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Life can be cut short by chronic complications, many of which are the direct result of poor lifestyle decisions. One of the most frightening illustrations of this is heart failure, a potentially life-threatening condition whereby the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly. It is caused by conditions that can be averted, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

A 2019 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found close adherence to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan can slash your risk of heart failure.

The DASH diet emphasises intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and low-fat dairy and deemphasises red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, and sodium.

The researchers analysed records from The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), which enrolled men and women at six clinics in different universities across the US.

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 percent 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 positive trend.

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The rate of heart failure was 40 percent lower in people under 75 who most closely followed the DASH eating plan, compared with those who followed it the least.

“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,” said lead study author Doctor Claudia L. Campos, an associate professor of general internal medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

New research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology builds on these findings.

Researchers investigated the association between long-term adherence to the DASH diet and food substitutions within the DASH diet on the risk of heart failure.

Men and women aged 45–83 years without previous heart failure, ischaemic heart disease or cancer at baseline in 1998 from a cohort of Swedish Men were studied.

Incidence of heart failure was ascertained using the Swedish patient register.

During the median 22 years of follow-up, 12 164 participants developed heart failure.

Those with the greatest adherence to the DASH diet had a lower risk of heart failure compared to those with the lowest adherence.

Replacing one serving a day of red and processed meat with emphasised DASH diet foods was associated with an eight to 12 percent lower risk of heart failure.

The researchers concluded: “Long-term adherence to the DASH diet and relevant food substitutions within the DASH diet were associated with a lower risk of HF [heart failure].”

What accounts for this effect?

Studies have shown that the DASH diet can lower blood pressure in as little as two weeks.

“The diet can also lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL or ‘bad’) cholesterol levels in the blood. High blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol levels are two major risk factors for heart disease and stroke,” reports the Mayo Clinic.

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