Each year, at least 20 million people worldwide survive a heart attack or stroke. Most of them, will then be prescribed a veritable cocktail of drugs including lipid-lowering agents, beta blockers, aspirin, anti-platelet medications, and angiotensin modulators.
In the misguided belief that this polypharmacy will guard against future catastrophic cardiovascular events, many patients think they don’t need to follow a healthy diet.
However a new, 5-year study of almost 32,000 patients in 40 countries showed those who ate a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish had an average:
- 35% reduction in risk for cardiovascular death
- 14% reduction in risk for new heart attacks
- 28% reduction in risk for congestive heart failure
- 19% reduction in risk for stroke
Researchers from McMaster University were able to demonstrate, for the first time, that while drug treatments, substantially lower the risk of another heart attack, a high quality diet also significantly lowers the risk.
Mahshid Dehghan, the study’s lead author and nutritionist at McMaster University’s Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) and his team assessed the association between diet quality and the risk of cardiovascular disease using information collected from men and women who participated in two major McMaster-led global studies: ONTARGET, and TRANSCEND.
Participants with cardiovascular disease were asked how often they consumed milk, vegetables, fruits, grains, fish, nuts, meat and poultry over the past 12 months. They were also asked about lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption, smoking and exercise. A healthy diet was indicated by a high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts as well as a high intake of fish compared to meat, poultry and eggs.
The results showed that a heart-healthy diet offered a “consistent benefit” over and above the benefits of taking medications to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Globally, healthy eating was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease by more than 20% in all regions of the world and across all income groups.
“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.”