Healthy diet tied to fewer deaths after heart attack

September 5, 2013 in Healthy Eating, Heart Health, Nutrition Topics in the News

Healthy diet tied to fewer deaths after heart attack

People who changed their eating habits for the better following a heart attack tend to live longer than those who continue to eat a less healthy diet, suggest findings from a new study from Harvard School of Public Health.

Among some 4000 men and women, those whose post-heart attack diets improved the most were 30 percent less likely to die from any cause and 40 percent less likely to die of heart disease, compared to those whose diets improved least.

The Harvard research group used data from two long-term studies of male and female healthcare workers who reported major lifestyle and medical events every two years and filled out diet questionnaires about every four years.

The researchers included data on 2,258 women and 1,840 men who had no history of heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular disease or cancer when they began participating in the mid-1970s and mid-1980s. But they all later had heart attacks.

Based on repeated lifestyle and diet questionnaires, researchers assigned each person a diet-quality score that factored in several diet components, including how much red and processed meat, nuts, sugar-sweetened beverages, vegetables, fats, alcohol, whole grains and salt the person ate.

During the studies, there were 1,133 deaths from all causes. Of those, 558 were linked to cardiovascular disease.

Among the 20 percent of men and women with the greatest post-heart attack improvements in their diet quality score, 140 died. That compares to 247 deaths among the 20 percent of people with the least-improved diet quality.

The researchers found the benefit was around a 30 percent reduction in subsequent mortality and cardiac events. Experts say such a reduction is almost as good as what cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins can achieve.

An overall high-quality diet score after a heart attack was tied to about 24 percent fewer deaths from any cause during the study, compared to those people with the lowest diet-quality scores.

These results are consistent with past findings about Mediterranean-style diets, which are high in olive oil, nuts, fish and fresh fruits and vegetables. Consumption of a Mediterranean-style diet has been shown to improve blood vessel function and reduce inflammation, a risk factor for coronary heart disease.

Healthful diets are considered those high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables and low in trans fats, meat and sugary drinks.

Source: JAMA Internal Medicine, online September 2, 2013.

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