A host of recent studies examine the role of diet in the risk for heart diseases, including high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Some may confirm what you already knew, but others might surprise you!
An observational study of over 70,000 middle age Americans found that a vegetarian diet was associated with a 12% reduction in overall mortality during a 6-year period, with a significant decline in heart disease for the men in the study (Orlich, 2013).
Lead author Dr Michael J Orlich states, “This research gives more support to the idea that certain vegetarian dietary patterns may be associated with reduced mortality and increased longevity” and can be used to guide food choices.
The Mediterranean diet is in the news, again, with the results of the PREDIMED study showing a 30% reduction in heart disease amongst the study group following the diet of mostly fresh fruits and vegetables with limited red meat and plenty of olive oil. This study also showed that walnuts were a comparable substitute for the healthy olive oil.
Take note of the summary provided by lead author Dr Ramon Estruch, who states “people should know that the Mediterranean diet is a diet healthier than others and should know the key components of this food pattern. The plan should be to increase the intake of the key foods (vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, legumes, extra virgin olive oil, and red wine in moderation), also increase the intake of white meat, and decrease the intake of red and processed meat, soda drinks, whole dairy products, commercial bakery goods, and sweets and pastries.”
Not all meat is bad? More research is teasing out the real issues with red meat consumption and it appears in part that the type of red meat plays a role in development of heart disease. Increased consumption of the beloved, and processed meats, such as bacon, sausage and ham, are linked to a 70% increase in heart disease and 18% increase in all cause mortality, according to the EPIC study, involving 10 countries and almost half a million men and women.
The EPIC study also showed that modest consumption of non-processed red meat was not associated with a significant health risk. However, data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and the Nurses Health Study did not distinguish a benefit of non-processed meat, showed that eating one additional serving of any red meat daily was associated with a 16% increase in the risk of cardiovascular mortality and a 10% increased risk of death from cancer.
Just this week, the European Society of Hypertension came out with new guidelines for salt intake, recommending individuals consume no more than 5 to 6 grams of salt per day. But, the salt debate is not settled with experts trying to determine if lowering the recommended intake of salt will really lead to less high blood pressure and less heart disease.
The PURE study examined the prevalence and control of high blood pressure worldwide by measuring blood pressure in 153,000 individuals from 528 urban and rural communities in 17 countries from five continents. Most of the study participants consumed more that the recommended 5 grams of salt daily and lower levels did not seem to have much effect on blood pressure. Only salt intake of higher levels started to correlate with higher blood pressure.
Conversely, the DASH study showed a stepwise improvement in blood pressure when lowering daily salt intake from 12 grams to as low as 3 grams per day. The NOMAS study showed individuals double their risk of stroke by consuming more than 10 grams of salt per day compared with people who took in only 3,750mg daily.
How about some really good news! Your morning cup of coffee is associated with lower blood pressure. From France, Dr Bruno Pannier presented data showing that drinking tea or coffee was associated with a small but statistically significant reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The study did not distinguish between green, black or herbal teas, and was not able to estimate caffeine concentrations.
There are numerous studies that show positive artery health effects from the various anti-oxidant chemicals called “flavonoids” that are found in coffee beans, tea leaves, and cocoa beans.
A Simple Solution to Heart Health
Lower your risk of death 80% by following four simple healthy lifestyle behaviors. Eat right, exercise regularly, maintain a good weight, and don’t smoke. These from the MESA trial that included 6229 US adults aged 44 to 84 years old. All patients were given a lifestyle score, ranging from 0 to 4, based on whether or not they followed a Mediterranean-style diet, their exercise habits (achieving 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week), body-mass index (BMI), and smoking status. One point was awarded for each healthy lifestyle behavior.
Over a seven-year period the patients who adopted all four healthy behaviors had an 80% decrease in death rate compared with those who followed zero of the health behaviors. Turns out that smoking is worse than not doing the other three health habits.
As always, I try to keep things simple for myself and for my patients. In the case heart disease and overall mortality, doing a few simple things will do more to promote good health than any medication.
Eat a balanced diet free from sugar and low in high-glycemic carbohydrates and processed meats. Increase your intake of fresh, preferably organic, fruits and vegetables, with plenty of nuts and healthy fats such as olive oil. I try to keep red meat intake to once/week, avoid processed meats altogether, and get mostly venison or grass-finished beef. Chicken and fish are good alternatives to red meat. Eggs are ok. Keep from overdoing it on the salt. Enjoy your coffee, tea or alcohol, all in moderation.
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.