Public Release:  Healthy diet may help prevent recurrent heart attacks, strokes

American Heart Association

If you have cardiovascular disease, a heart-healthy diet may help protect you from recurrent heart attacks and strokes, according to new research in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

"At times, patients don't think they need to follow a healthy diet since their medications have already lowered their blood pressure and cholesterol -- that is wrong," said Mahshid Dehghan, Ph.D., study author and a nutritionist at the Population Health Research Institute, McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. "Dietary modification has benefits in addition to those seen with aspirin, angiotensin modulators, lipid-lowering agents and beta blockers."

For the study, 31,546 adults (average age 66.5) with cardiovascular disease or end organ damage were asked how often they consumed milk, vegetables, fruits, grains, fish, meat and poultry in the past 12 months. They were also asked about lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption, smoking and exercise. Total scores were determined by daily fruits, vegetables, grains and milk consumed and the ratio of fish to meats consumed.

During a follow-up of nearly five years, participants experienced 5,190 cardiovascular events.

Researchers found those who ate a heart-healthy diet had a:

  • 35 percent reduction in risk for cardiovascular death;
  • 14 percent reduction in risk for new heart attacks;
  • 28 percent reduction in risk for congestive heart failure; and
  • 19 percent reduction in risk for stroke.

Food habits in different regions of the world varied considerably; however, a healthy diet was associated with prevention of recurrent cardiovascular disease throughout the world in countries with different economic levels, Dehghan said.

A diet rich in vegetables and fruits with a higher ratio of fish to meats appeared to be more beneficial for preventing heart disease than for preventing cancer, fractures or injury.

"Physicians should advise their high-risk patients to improve their diet and eat more vegetables, fruits, grains and fish," Dehghan said. "This could substantially reduce cardiovascular recurrence beyond drug therapy alone and save lives globally."

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Co-authors are Andrew Mente, Ph.D.; Koon K. Teo, Ph.D.; Peggy Gao, M.Sc.; Peter Sleight, D.M.; Gilles Dagenais, M.D.; Alvaro Avezum, M.D.; Jeffrey L. Probstfield, M.D.; Tony Dans, M.D.; and Salim Yusuf, D.Phil. Author disclosures are on the manuscript. Boehringer Ingelheim funded the study.

For more information on health eating visit the AHA Nutrition Center.

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For updates and new science from the Circulation journal follow @CircAHA.

Statements and conclusions of study authors published in American Heart Association scientific journals are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the association's policy or position. The association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific association programs and events. The association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations are available at www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

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