Plant-based diet may lower risk for heart disease

Eating a high protein diet may heighten one’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, hypertension, and stroke, a new study by researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine, found.

In recent years, high protein diets have gained immense popularity because of their clear benefits. It helps build muscle mass and lose weight. However, a new study published in Lancet EClinical Medicine, a team of researchers found that the diet may increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Image Credit: Losangela / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Losangela / Shutterstock

The team of researchers found that a plant-based diet may be the key to lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly heart disease. Amino acids are building blocks of all proteins in the body. In proteins, there’s a subcategory called sulfur amino acids, including cysteine and methionine, which play a pivotal role in metabolism and health.

Since the 1990s, scientists have long been interested in dietary sulfur amino acid restriction, showing its health benefits in animals. It has been known that sulfur amino acid-restricted diets have shown promise in longevity in animal models, but this is the first study to provide the first epidemiologic evidence that consuming too much sulfur amino acids, commonly found in meat, dairy, soy, and nuts, is linked to chronic disease in humans.

To land to their findings, the researchers studied the diets and blood biomarkers of more than 11,000 people who were enrolled in a national study. After their analysis, they found that those who ate foods with less sulfur amino acids were at a lower risk of cardiometabolic disease, based on the results of their blood tests.

Blood lipid levels

The team, which gathered their data from the Third Examination and Nutritional Health Survey, collected and studied the composite cardiometabolic disease risk. The score of the risk was based on the blood works performed on the patient, including triglycerides, glucose, insulin, and cholesterol levels. The team tested all these after a 10 to 16 hour fast.

The team believes that all these biomarkers indicate a risk of disease. For instance, high cholesterol levels are tied to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. With a person’s long-term dietary habits, these can affect one’s health outcomes.

For people with high cholesterol levels, they are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerosis is a condition wherein plaque builds up inside the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow. Arteries carry oxygenated blood that delivers the needed oxygen and nutrients to the different parts of the body. Plaque is mostly made of fat, calcium, cholesterol and other substances found in the blood.

When a plaque hardens and accumulates over time, it can narrow the blood vessel. If there is no enough oxygen reaching the heart and brain, it can lead to potentially fatal conditions such as heart attack and stroke.

The American diet

The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Medicine recommends an average daily requirement of 15mg/kg/day. To estimate the intake of people of high-protein foods, the nutritionists collated information about the diet of the participants through 24-hour recalls. With the use of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Survey Nutrient Database, the team calculated the intake of each participant.

The team revealed that the average American consumes about two and a half times more sulfur amino acids than the average recommendations, based on their type of diet, which is more of meat and dairy products.

“Many people in the United States consume a diet rich in meat and dairy products and the estimated average requirement is only expected to meet the needs of half of the healthy individuals. Therefore, it is not surprising that many are surpassing the average requirement when considering these foods contain higher amounts of sulfur amino acids,” Xiang Gao, associate professor and director of the nutritional epidemiology lab at the Penn State University.

The team also found that the higher the sulfur amino acids, the higher the cardiovascular risk. They also recommended eating a plant-based diet like fruits and vegetables since they have lower amounts of sulfur amino acids.

Eating a plant-based diet has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. The researchers aim to emphasize that eating a well-balanced diet is a good practice for overall health.

Journal reference:

Association of sulfur amino acid consumption with cardiometabolic risk factors: Cross-sectional findings from NHANES III Dong, Zhen et al. EClinicalMedicine, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(19)30257-3/fulltext

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

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Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.

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