Women who eat diets similar to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet -which is low in animal protein, moderate in low-fat dairy products and high in plant proteins, fruits and vegetables - appear to have a lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, according to a report in the April 14 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
The DASH diet has been shown to reduce both systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure in individuals with high or normal blood pressure, according to background information in the article. The diet has also been shown to reduce low-density lipoprotein (“bad”) cholesterol and is recommended in national dietary guidelines as an example of a healthy eating pattern.
Teresa T. Fung, Sc.D., of Simmons College, Boston, and colleagues studied 88,517 female nurses age 34 to 59 in the Nurses' Health Study who did not have cardiovascular disease or diabetes in 1980. Seven times from 1980 through 2004, the women reported the types of foods they ate regularly over the previous year. Researchers then calculated a DASH score for each woman based on eight food and nutrient components. Their scores increased when they ate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes and stayed close to the recommended amounts of low-fat dairy. Scores decreased with increased consumption of red and processed meats, sweetened beverages and sodium.
Through 24 years of follow up, 2,129 women had a non-fatal heart attack, 976 died of coronary heart disease and 2,317 had strokes. Higher DASH scores were associated with a lower risk for heart disease and stroke. When separated into groups based on their DASH scores, the one-fifth of women who had diets that were most similar to the DASH diet were 24 percent less likely to develop fatal or non-fatal coronary heart disease and 18 percent less likely to have a stroke than the one-fifth of women with the lowest DASH scores.
In a subgroup of women who provided blood samples, higher DASH scores were also associated with lower levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin 6. These compounds are markers of inflammation, which has been associated with heart disease risk.
Similar studies should be conducted to determine if associations between the DASH-style diet and risk for heart disease and stroke remain similar in other populations, the authors note.