A Plant Based Diet Improves Heart Health

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Plant-based diets are becoming more common these days for many reasons including heart health and stroke prevention. There is a clear relationship between what you put into your body and your risk for chronic illness like cardiovascular disease. Switching to a plant-based diet is a healthy and cost-effective intervention for those at risk for heart disease or stroke.

Red Meat and Cardiovascular Disease

For decades, medical science has been pointing out the dangers of diets high in red meat. The focus has been on saturated fat.

More recent studies indicate a second problem with red meat — trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). TMAO is a dietary by-product of red meat digestion. The initial concern with TMAO is that it enhances cholesterol deposited on the walls of arteries.

A study conducted by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic looked at another risk with TMAO — how it interacts with blood platelets increasing the risk of a clot-related cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.

The study published February in the European Heart Journal gave participants the equivalent of eight steaks a day for one month. They found that TMAO levels for the red meat eaters were three times higher than those on a plant-based diet.

The study also shows that high TMAO levels that can increase the risk of blood clots are reversible with dietary changes that eliminate or greatly reduce meat intake.

Fruits, Vegetables and High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is called the silent killer because people don’t always know they have it. Yet, about 32 percent of the U.S. population does have hypertension which increases their risk of heart disease and stroke. A 2016 study published in Hypertension found that consuming more plant-based foods, especially whole fruits, naturally lowers blood pressure. Observational studies indicate that a plant-based diet could reduce systolic blood pressure by 6.9mmHg and diastolic by 4.7mmHg.

Plant-based Diets and Stroke Prevention

Numerous studies make the connection between eliminating meat from your diet and decreasing your risk of stroke, a leading cause of death and disability globally. Eighty-seven percent of strokes are ischemic, meaning they are the result of a blocked artery in the brain, most likely from a clot.

There are various mechanisms behind a stroke but there are three primary — hypertension, atherosclerosis and heart arrhythmias. By themselves or in combination, they tend to be key components found in many stroke cases. All three are potentially minimized by eliminating meat from your diet.

A 2014 meta-analysis published in Stroke shows a 21 percent reduction in the risk of stroke associated with eating fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, for every 100 grams of meat consumed per day, there is a 24 percent increase in the risk of ischemic stroke.

The INTERSTROKE study looked at the potential risk factors of stroke including hypertension, poor nutrition, large waist-to-hip ratio, diabetes, poor cardiac health and lipid profile could be reduced with a plant-based diet.

Eating Right If You Have Heart Disease

Switching to a plant-based diet may have a positive effect for those already diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, as well. The Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets reports that 82 percent of participants in one study saw regression of their coronary heart disease when they made lifestyle changes that included going on a low-fat plant-based diet.

Maximal health benefits come from a low-fat plant-based diet that focuses on whole foods. It's a nutritional approach that benefits your cardiovascular system.

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