October 28, 2016
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New Diet Holds Promise For Blacks

BALTIMORE, MD - A new study suggests yet another reason for Americans to abandon 
their current fatty diets in favor of one rich in fruits and 
vegetables and low in saturated fat. Choosing these healthier options 
appears to significantly reduce the long-term risk of heart disease 
in patients with mildly elevated blood pressure, particularly African 

Long known to reduce blood pressure and now recommended in national 
guidelines, this healthier diet -- known as the DASH diet -- also 
reduces heart disease risk, even in people who do not lose weight, 
according to a Johns Hopkins study being published in the journal 
Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

"One of the most noteworthy findings is the remarkable reduction in 
heart disease risk among African Americans," says Nisa M. Maruthur, 
M.D., M.H.S., an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of 
General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of 
Medicine and one of the study's authors. "African Americans in the 
United States tend to have worse outcomes than whites from 
cardiovascular disease, and here is one way they may be able to help 
prevent it."

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan 
emphasizes fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products; includes 
whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts; and is reduced in fats, red 
meat, sweets and sugar-containing beverages.

Maruthur's research shows that subjects who ate the DASH diet likely 
decreased their 10-year risk of coronary heart disease by 18 percent 
over those who ate a more typical American diet; and by 11 percent 
over those who ate a diet rich in fruits and vegetables but otherwise 
similar to a typical American diet.

In African-American subjects, the decrease in 10-year risk of 
coronary heart disease was even more pronounced: Those on the DASH 
diet saw their risk decline by 22 percent over those on a typical 
diet, compared to 8 percent for white subjects.

Compared to the study's control group, the DASH diet (with its nine 
to 11 servings of fruits and vegetables a day) lowered blood 
pressure, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol as well as HDL 
cholesterol. It had no effect on levels of triglycerides, fatty acids 
also linked to heart disease.

The research was done using data from the DASH trial of the 1990s, in 
which 459 people with elevated blood pressure not high enough to 
require medication were sorted into three groups. Each group ate one 
of three diets for eight weeks, the DASH diet, a diet rich in fruits 
and vegetables but otherwise comparable to a typical diet, or a more 
typical fatty American diet. All of the food was provided by 
researchers, who carefully measured out portions and determined the 
nutrient content of the meals being served. Using a risk assessment 
calculator devised by the Framingham Heart Study, Maruthur's team was 
able to estimate heart disease risk.

Maruthur says the reason that the diet likely reduces coronary heart 
disease risk is that it reduces both blood pressure and blood 
cholesterol levels, two independent risk factors for coronary disease.

One drawback of the study -- and most any study of lifestyle 
interventions -- is that it relies on estimates for determining heart 
disease risks in the long term. Researchers point out that it would 
take too much time and money to follow people for the decades 
required to see if the prescribed diet helps reduce actual heart 
attacks and heart disease deaths.

For years, doctors and policy makers have talked about the 
detrimental effects of the typical American diet on the nation's 
health. Physician, advocacy and government groups have advocated for 
widespread adoption of a diet similar to the DASH diet. But the 
message, says Maruthur, still hasn't gotten through.

"It's no secret that we should be eating less saturated fat and more 
fruits and vegetables," she says. "But how do we get the general 
population to adopt the DASH diet? The public health benefits could 
be enormous."

Lawrence J. Appel, M.D., M.P.H., and Steven T. Chen, M.D., M.P.H., 
co-authored the study.

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