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Eating refined grains may bring on heart disease earlier, study says

Eating lots of refined grains, such as white bread, is like consuming a diet full of sugars and oils, and associated with a higher risk of premature coronary artery disease, a new study says. Photo by Aimee M Lee/Shutterstock.com
Eating lots of refined grains, such as white bread, is like consuming a diet full of sugars and oils, and associated with a higher risk of premature coronary artery disease, a new study says. Photo by Aimee M Lee/Shutterstock.com

Oct. 3 (UPI) -- Eating lots of refined grains, such as white bread and white rice, is similar to consuming a diet full of sugars and oils, and linked to a higher risk of premature coronary artery disease, a new study says.

By contrast, eating whole grains, such as whole-grain bread, whole oats or quinoa, was associated with a reduced risk of premature coronary artery disease, according to the study.

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A news release on the study was issued Monday in anticipation of its presentation at the American College of Cardiology Middle East 2022 Together with the 13th Emirates Cardiac Society Congress to run Friday through Sunday in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Whole-grain foods contain the entire grain kernel, while refined grains have been ground into flour or meal to improve shelf life. The cardiology group underscored that refined grains lose important nutrients in the process.

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The 2019 ACC/American Heart Association Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease recommends a diet that emphasizes eating vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and fish to decrease heart disease risk factors.

The new study explored the link between refined and whole grains consumption and the risk of developing premature coronary artery disease -- defined as atherosclerotic narrowing of coronary arteries in males under 55 years old or females under 65 years old -- in Iran.

"A diet that includes consuming a high amount of unhealthy and refined grains can be considered similar to consuming a diet containing a lot of unhealthy sugars and oils," Dr. Mohammad Amin Khajavi Gaskarei, the study's lead author, said in the release.

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People may be consuming more refined grains than whole grains because of such factors as the economy and income, job, education, culture and age, said Gaskarei, of the Isfahan Cardiovascular Research Center and Cardiovascular Research Institute at Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in Isfahan, Iran.

Smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes are risk factors for premature coronary artery disease, which often begins without symptoms, but can lead to chest pain and/or a heart attack from narrowing or plaque rupture of the arterial wall, the release said.

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The study recruited 2,000-plus individuals with premature coronary artery disease from hospitals with catheterization labs throughout Iran who underwent coronary angiography, a diagnostic medical procedure looking for restricted blood flow to the heart. Women were 70 years old or younger; men were 60 years old or younger.

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In the end, the research included 1,369 patients with obstruction of at least 75% in at least a single coronary artery or at least 50% in the left main coronary artery, alongside a control group of 1,168 patients with normal coronary arteries.

Participants completed a questionnaire to evaluate their dietary behaviors.

After adjusting for confounding variables, the researchers determined that a higher intake of refined grains was associated with an increased risk of the heart disease, while whole grain intake was inversely related to reduced risk of it.

"As more studies demonstrate an increase in refined grains consumption globally, as well as the impact on overall health, it is important that we find ways to encourage and educate people on the benefits of whole grain consumption," Khajavi Gaskarei said.

This strategy should include continued research on the topic, "teaching improved dietary choices in schools and other public places," and getting clinicians to discuss the merits of whole grains with their patients, he said.

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