Never too late to start eating right

March 21, 2013
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 2 minutes

Johnny-Wei Bai / Meducator

It is a well-known fact that a healthy diet can lower the risk of various types of cardiovascular disease. How far can the benefits of healthy eating go, especially for someone who already has cardiovascular disease or other age-related pathologies such as diabetes mellitus?

Every year, more than 20 million people around the world survive a heart attack or stroke. Often, these patients are prescribed medications such as blood thinners or antiplatelet agents, which significantly decrease their risk of subsequent heart attacks, stroke and heart failure. However, Mahsid Dehghan, a nutritionist at McMaster University, says that "at times, patients don’t think they need to follow a healthy diet since their medications have already lowered their blood pressure and cholesterol – that is wrong." She goes on to say that "dietary modification has benefits in addition to those seen with Aspirin, angiotensin modulators, lipid-lowering agents and beta blockers."

To find an association between diet quality and cardiovascular disease, Dr. Dehghan recently led a 56-month study in 40 countries involving nearly 32,000 people over age 55, all with history of cardiovascular disease, stroke, or severe diabetes mellitus. The participants were given questionnaires to assess their dietary intake, alcohol and smoking habits, and exercise levels. This is one the few studies to explore the effect of diet on people who already have cardiovascular disease.

It was found that even after adjusting for potential confounders such as age, sex, geographical location and medications prescribed, a healthy diet consistently lowered risk for cardiovascular disease in patients with prior disease history, thereby greatly enhancing the benefits of their medication. This healthy diet would include items such as vegetables, fruits, fibres, nuts, and fish, and lower levels of saturated fats. The results of healthy eating included a reduction in risk of 38 per cent for cardiovascular death, 14 per cent for recurrent heart attack, 28 per cent for congestive heart failure and 19 per cent for stroke.

This study bears great implications in healthcare and patient education. Healthcare providers are encouraged to stress the importance of good eating as part of therapy for heart and stroke patients. By learning to not simply depend on medication, but also lifestyle choices, patients can reap the benefits of both their medication and healthy eating to avoid recurring heart disease.

Although the sample population consisted of older patients with cardiovascular disease, it certainly is very applicable to university students. Dr. Dehghan's results support the notion that it is never too late (or too early, for that matter) to start improving one's dietary habits – a new year's resolution that has been plaguing many of us for months now, I'm sure.

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