The popular DASH diet was found to reduce heart stress and damage that often resulted in heart disease, according to a study published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
DASH stands for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension,” and it emphasizes consuming foods such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts. According to the Mayo Clinic, it emphasizes consuming foods such as four to five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, six to eight servings of whole grains, two to three servings of low-fat dairy products, and no more than six 1-ounce servings of lean meat, poultry and fish a day.
The Mayo Clinic says the diet encourages the reduction of sodium and is a “lifelong approach to healthy eating that’s designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure.”
However, a study done out of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School indicates the diet does more.
“It was demonstrated that the DASH diet reduced cholesterol and blood pressure, and then our study goes beyond that and shows that it lowers damage to cardiac heart muscles,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Stephen Juraschek, told USA TODAY.
To conduct the study, Juraschek and colleagues took stored specimens from research conducted at four U.S. medical centers from 1997-99. In that previous study, researchers enrolled 412 participants with elevated blood pressure and randomly assigned them to either the DASH diet or a controlled diet designed to reflect a typical American diet.
According to the study, those in each group were assigned a low, medium or high sodium level. All of the participants had all of their meals and snacks provided, with one meal per day eaten under observation. The team analyzed the specimens for “three biomarkers, or measurable substances in the blood that have been shown to predict cardiovascular events in adults without known cardiovascular disease,” according to the study.
The results concluded that biomarkers linked to heart damage declined by 18%, while those associated with heart damage and inflammation dropped by 13%.
“Our study represents some of the strongest evidence that diet directly impacts cardiac damage, and our findings show that dietary interventions can improve cardiovascular risk factors in a relatively short time period,” Juraschek said.
The news comes after U.S. News & World Report named the DASH diet the second-best overall diet, behind the Mediterranean diet, in January. Juraschek said the DASH diet could be especially important for Americans because heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and uncontrolled blood pressure rates are on the rise.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one person dies every 36 seconds of cardiovascular disease in the U.S.
Juraschek acknowledged the diet does result in a high level of carbohydrates, but in the end, the diet still has multiple health benefits.
Aside from having to learn how to prepare meals and being specifically designed to lose weight, it may be a little more challenging for those with dairy or food allergies, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
“It’s not a small decision to eat a healthy diet, but it can have important implications for long-term heart health,” Juraschek said.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jord_mendoza.