Diet change may bring biggest benefit for heart health

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Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, losing weight, quitting smoking, and increasing physical activity, have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

A new study looked at how making these lifestyle changes could affect the future risk of cardiovascular events in young and middle-aged adults with stage 1 high blood pressure that is not being treated.

The study used previously published trial data and evidence from meta-analyses to simulate heart disease and stroke events, death rates, and healthcare costs from 2018 to 2027 for people ages 35 to 64 with untreated stage 1 high blood pressure.

Stage 1 hypertension is defined as having a systolic (top) number of 130-139 mmHg or a diastolic (bottom) number of 80-89 mmHg, according to guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology.

The researchers found that making lifestyle changes that resulted in lowering blood pressure to under 130 mmHg systolic or 90 mmHg diastolic could have substantial health and economic benefits.

The model estimated that lifestyle changes would prevent 2,900 deaths and 26,000 cardiovascular events, such as strokes or heart attacks, during the simulated time period.

It also predicted that these changes could save $1.6 billion in associated healthcare costs.

Among the lifestyle changes studied, adopting the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was found to have the largest benefit in preventing cardiovascular events.

The DASH diet was developed to help manage blood pressure levels and emphasizes the consumption of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, seeds, and grains while limiting the consumption of red meat, sodium, sugar, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

The researchers estimated that adopting the DASH diet could prevent an estimated 15,000 cardiovascular events among U.S. men and 11,000 among U.S. women.

However, the researchers acknowledge that the availability and affordability of healthy food sources can be a barrier for people to follow the DASH diet.

Clinicians should consider whether their patients live in food deserts or places with limited walkability and provide counseling to address these specific challenges to blood pressure control.

The study is being presented at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension Scientific Sessions and the findings are considered preliminary until the full results are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The study’s lead researcher is Kendra D. Sims, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about the best time to take vitamins to prevent heart disease, and calcium supplements could harm your heart health.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about natural coconut sugar could help reduce blood pressure and artery stiffness and results showing blackcurrants could improve artery functions, blood pressure in older people.

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