The DASH diet also can reduce heart damage and stress, both of which increase risk for heart disease, a new study has found. Photo by Derrick Brutel/Flickr
May 24 (UPI) -- The so-called DASH diet, a meal plan designed to lower blood pressure, reduces heart damage and stress that often lead to heart disease, according to a study published Monday by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
People who stuck with the diet for up to four weeks had significantly lower blood levels of proteins seen as signs of heart damage and inflammation, the data showed.
In addition, those who combined DASH diet with a low-sodium meal plan experienced the greatest reductions in blood proteins that serve as signs for heart injury and stress, the researchers said.
"Our study represents some of the strongest evidence that diet directly impacts cardiac damage," study co-author Dr. Stephen Juraschek said in a press release.
"Our findings show that dietary interventions can improve cardiovascular risk factors in a relatively short time period," said Juraschek, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and public health advocates frequently cite high-sodium diets as one factor in the nation's poor overall cardiac health, according to Juraschek and his colleagues.
Developed in the 1990s, the DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, diet has been shown to reduce blood pressure in recent research.
The diet emphasizes consuming fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts while limiting saturated fats, total fat, cholesterol, red meat, sweets and sugar-containing beverages.
For this research, the team analyzed stored blood samples from the DASH-Sodium study, an assessment of the diet conducted at four medical centers in the United States in between 1997 and 1999.
In that earlier study, researchers enrolled 412 participants with high blood pressure and randomly assigned them to either the DASH diet or a control diet designed to reflect a typical U.S. diet.
Within those two groups, each participant was assigned to one of three sodium levels -- low, medium or high -- for four weeks, they said.
All meals and snacks were provided to participants who ate one main meal per day under observation and consumed the rest off-site.
Blood samples were assessed for three biomarkers, or measurable substances in the blood that have been shown to predict heart attacks or strokes in adults without known heart disease, the researchers said.
Among those on the DASH diet, biomarkers linked to heart damage declined by 18%, while those associated with heart inflammation dropped by 13%, the data showed.
Participants combining the DASH diet with reduced-sodium meal plan saw more than 20% reductions in biomarkers for heart injury and stress, the researchers said.
"The data reinforce the importance of a lifestyle that includes a reduced-sodium, DASH diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains to minimize cardiac damage over time," Juraschek said.
"These findings should strengthen public resolve for public policies that promote the DASH dietary pattern and lower sodium intake in the United States and globally," he said.