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Fruit and vegetables give hope for healthier hearts

The daily consumption of vegetables and fruit combined with a diet consisting of wholegrain products, fish, beans and small amounts of alcohol can more than halve the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have analysed the eating habits of 25,000 Swedish women and found two specific dietary patterns that correlate significantly with a healthy heart.

It is hardly the first time that a link has been studied between diet and the risk of cardiac arrest, for instance. What is new about this particular piece of research is that the scientists have unreservedly mapped out the women’s dietary habits instead of deciding in advance the kind of food they wanted to examine. Doing this, the researchers were able to identify two specific dietary patterns that were clearly linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

“The first was characterised by a high consumption of vegetables and fruit, and the second by the moderate consumption of alcohol; we’re talking about the equivalent of four vegetables and two pieces of fruit a day and half a glass of wine," says Agneta Åkesson, one of the scientists behind the study.

She stresses that the dietary patterns in question included the regular consumption of wholegrain products, fish and beans. Almost one third of the women in the study showed this healthier eating behaviour, which in turn gave a 57 per cent lower risk of myocardial infarction than a diet low in these foodstuffs.

Using this dietary behaviour as a basis, the researchers added other health factors, such as a healthy body weight, abstinence from smoking, and regular exercise (by which was meant a daily walk of at least 40 minutes or a cycle ride, and one hour’s more intense training a week). All these conditions were met by only one in twenty women, who, it transpired, had a full 92 per cent lower risk of suffering a heart attack than the women who smoked, were overweight, ate unhealthy food, and were physically inactive.

“If all women lived like the healthy group, 75 per cent of heart attacks would be prevented," says Agneta Åkesson. “It’s also important to produce data based on the situation in Sweden so that we can improve public health in our country."

The newly published study was based on data from 25,000 women born in Uppsala and Västmanland County between 1914 and 1948, who have been monitored since 1997 with regard to their chances of suffering a myocardial infarction. The material is part of the Swedish Mammography Cohort. Since the study is based on healthy women, the percentage eating a wholesome diet is higher than the 20 per cent or less that would be expected amongst women in Sweden over the age of 50.

“Combined Effect of Low-Risk Dietary and Lifestyle Behaviours in Primary Prevention of Myocardial Infarction in Women"
Agneta Åkesson, Christoph Weismayer, P K Newby, Alicja Wolk
Archives of Internal Medicine, vol 167, no 19, 22 October 2007
For further information, please contact:
Agneta Åkesson, PhD
Department of Environmental Medicine, Nutritional Epidemiology Unit
Tel: +46 (0)8-524 875 42
Mobile: +46 (0)73-6553434
Press Officer Katarina Sternudd
Tel: +46 (0)8-524 838 95
Mobile: +46 (0)70-224 38 95
Karolinska Institutet is one of the leading medical universities in Europe. Through research, education and information, Karolinska Institutet contributes to improving human health. Each year, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet awards the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Katarina Sternudd | alfa
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