There is a reason your mother told you not to discuss politics at the dinner table. It can be disruptive and divisive.
It’s not that different in healthcare. These days the divide between natural healing and drug therapy is almost as emotional as that between Republicans and Democrats.
We frequently hear from readers who prefer to avoid medications. They see drugs as dangerous and prefer to use food as their medicine.
We also hear from health professionals who are skeptical that lifestyle approaches can match the power of prescription medications. They point to the rigorous clinical trials conducted on drugs and the lack of good science supporting alternative approaches such as diet and exercise.
This polarization should start to shift with new research published in Circulation, the highly regarded journal of the American Heart Association (Dec. 4, 2012). The study included more than 30,000 volunteers at high risk of cardiovascular complications because of their age (55 and up) and their history of diabetes, heart attack or stroke. They were participating in two drug trials of telmisartan (Micardis), but the researchers also collected detailed information on dietary habits and evaluated them using standardized scoring methods.
The study ran nearly five years. During that time roughly 5,000 participants experienced a heart attack, stroke, heart failure or died from cardiovascular causes. Those with the healthiest diets were 35 percent less likely to die.
It won’t surprise you to learn that the survivors were following their mothers’ dietary advice, whether or not they paid attention to dinner conversation warnings: they filled their plates with vegetables, fruit and whole grains. They chose fish more often than meat, and ate nuts and beans more than poultry or eggs.
Their rewards included a 28 percent reduction in the risk of developing congestive heart failure and a 19 percent reduction in the likelihood of suffering a stroke. These benefits held up regardless of whether the subjects were in the drug or placebo arm of their respective trials. The investigators concluded, “Highlighting the importance of healthy eating by health professionals would substantially reduce CVD [cardiovascular disease] recurrence and save lives globally.”
What we see in this study is the value of a healthful diet. The data keep accumulating that foods that do not raise blood sugar or insulin dramatically are healthier for the heart, the metabolism and even cancer.
In one recent study colon cancer patients who had a diet loaded with bread, pasta, desserts and other refined carbs were more likely to have a recurrence after their chemotherapy treatments or even to die during the study (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, online Nov. 7, 2012). This was especially striking for those who were overweight.
Cutting back on carbohydrates can pay dividends for losing weight, lowering blood pressure, controlling cholesterol and reducing the risk of diabetes. Such meals can be delicious. Leading health experts offer their favorites in our book, Recipes and Remedies from The People’s Pharmacy. Eating well can bolster the benefit from life-saving medications.