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"DASH" Diet Lowers Risk of Heart Disease, Stroke in Women

Study in Archives of Internal Medicine Led by Simmons School of Health Sciences

BOSTON (April 14, 2008) — Women who adhered to the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is high in fruits and vegetables and low in animal protein, significantly lowered their risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, according to a study published April 14 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, led by Simmons College nutrition professor Teresa Fung, Sc.D.

The study indicates for the first time that the diet, which had previously been shown to lower blood pressure, also reduces risk of heart attack and stroke among middle-aged women.

Fung, who teaches at the Simmons School of Health Sciences, led the study, with colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The DASH diet was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and previously was widely promoted as a diet to treat high blood pressure.  It is a diet low in cholesterol and sodium and contains no more than 30 percent of calories from fat. It is high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole gains and low-fat dairy products, and low in red and processed meats and sweetened beverages.

Fung's study created a score to measure how closely women's diets resemble the DASH diet, then looked to see if those with a high score (stricter adherence to the DASH diet) would have a lower risk of developing heart attacks and stroke than those with low adherence to the diet and a  low DASH score.

Over 24 years of follow-up, the study found that women in the top 20 percent of the DASH score were 24 percent less likely to have heart disease and 18 percent less likely to have a stroke, than the women who scored in the bottom 20 percent of the DASH score.

The data also showed the risk reduction for stroke was stronger in women with a history of hypertension at baseline, compared with those who did not.

"This is a diet that seems worth recommending, because it is backed by strong scientific evidence," Fung said.  "Not only does it contain healthy food, but it's also shown to link to lower risk of cardiovascular disease."

The data analysis looked at more than 88,000 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study, who provided dietary information seven times over 24 years.  The women were ages 34 to 59 who were free of cardiovascular disease or diabetes at the time of enrollment.

The National Institutes of Health funded the study, "Adherence to a DASH-Style Diet and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke in Women."

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