The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Eating Your Vegetables Ward Off Heart Failure?

People whose diets most closely approximate the DASH diet guidelines are better able to ward off heart failure as they age.

Many studies have shown that the DASH diet can help people lower their blood pressure. Now, researchers have found that individuals who follow DASH diet guidelines also reduce their risk of developing heart failure (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, May 10, 2019).

What Is the DASH Diet?

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This eating plan is rich in vegetables, fruit and low-fat dairy products. People following it eat nuts and legumes (beans and peas) regularly and rarely consume red meat or desserts. Sugar-sweetened beverages and alcohol are off limits on this diet. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers its guidelines for a DASH diet here. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics discusses the DASH diet plan here. Finally, the T. H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University offers its review here.

Can More Vegetables Really Ward Off Heart Failure?

The study included nearly 4,500 participants of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. These individuals were under 75 years of age and they answered detailed questionnaires about their usual diets. During approximately 15 years of follow-up, the scientists noted which volunteers were diagnosed with heart failure. Those who followed DASH guidelines most closely were 60 percent less likely to have such a diagnosis compared to those whose usual diets were least compatible with this approach.

The study is observational, so scientists can’t claim that a DASH diet will infallibly ward off heart failure. However, this is not the first research to point in this direction. A review published a few years ago suggested that a DASH diet “may be optimal for patients with HF [heart failure]” (Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, Mar-Apr. 2016). Other reviews have reached similar conclusions (Nutrients, June 26, 2018). However, most of the scientists say they cannot draw clear conclusions without randomized controlled trials (Heart Failure Reviews, March 28, 2019). 

Drinking Coffee Is OK:

Exercise and other components of a healthy lifestyle can also help ward off heart failure. Surprisingly, people who consume coffee regularly lower their likelihood of this complication. An analysis of five studies with 140,000 participants found that those who drank approximately two cups of coffee daily were 11 percent less likely to develop heart failure than those who forgo their morning joe (Circulation: Heart Failure, July 2012). People who already have heart failure–that includes 5.8 million Americans–are often warned to avoid coffee. Despite that, the researchers say this study shows moderation makes more sense.

Learn More:

If you would like more details on following a DASH diet, you will find them in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies. Following the diet should help you lower your blood pressure and control your blood sugar as well as ward off heart failure.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Campos CL et al, "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet concordance and incident heart failure: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis." American Journal of Preventive Medicine, June 2019. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2018.11.022
  • Rifai L & Silver MA, "A review of the DASH diet as an optimal dietary plan for symptomatic heart failure." Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, Mar-Apr. 2016. DOI: 10.1016/j.pcad.2015.11.001
  • Dos Reis Padilha G et al, "Dietary patterns in secondary prevention of heart failure: A systematic review." Nutrients, JUne 26, 2018. DOI: 10.3390/nu10070828
  • Abu-Sawwa R et al, "Nutrition intervention in heart failure: Should consumption of the DASH eating pattern be recommended to improve outcomes?" Heart Failure Reviews, online March 28, 2019. DOI: 10.1007/s10741-019-09781-6
  • Mostofsky E et al, "Habitual coffee consumption and risk of heart failure: A dose-response meta-analysis." Circulation: Heart Failure, July 1, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.112.967299
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Isn’t a problem with this kind of study that participants are sort of self selecting and self reporting? Those who will follow a DASH type diet are probably already leading a healthier life style, including how they eat and exercise? Randomized controlled studies are needed, yet are hard to implement. If a study relies on self reporting, it stands to reason that those willing to fully and honestly report and participate are less likely to have bad dietary habits, so they may skew the results.

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