New research has suggested that over two-thirds of heart disease cases around the world are preventable with improvements in diet. Other lifestyle changes like reducing exposure to cigarette smoke could prevent more cases. Access to affordable and healthy diets would benefit everyone by improving the world's standard of living and health, and lowering health care costs. Reporting in the European Heart Journal - Quality of Care and Clinical Outcomes, scientists showed that while there have been significant improvements in the way heart disease is treated, healthcare costs related to heart disease may rise by 41 percent from 2010 to 2040, from $126.2 billion in 2010 to $177.5 billion in the United States alone.
"Our analysis shows that unhealthy diets, high blood pressure, and high serum cholesterol are the top three contributors to deaths from heart attacks and angina - collectively called ischemic heart disease," said study author Dr. Xinyao Liu of Central South University, Changsha, China. "This was consistent in both developed and developing countries."
"More than six million deaths could be avoided by reducing intake of processed foods, sugary beverages, trans, and saturated fats, and added salt and sugar, while increasing intake of fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. Ideally, we should eat 200 to 300 mg of omega 3 fatty acids from seafood each day. On top of that, every day we should aim for 200 to 300 grams of fruit, 290 to 430 grams of vegetables, 16 to 25 grams of nuts, and 100 to 150 grams of whole grains," she added.
The scientists examined data from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017, which showed that ischemic heart disease was to blame for about 16 percent of deaths in 2017; the disease caused around 12.6 percent of all deaths in 1990.
"While progress has been made in preventing heart disease and improving survival, particularly in developed countries, the numbers of people affected continues to rise because of population growth and aging," added Liu.
This study also asked whether deaths could be prevented by eliminating certain risk factors, like high blood pressure, tobacco use, air pollution, sedentary lifestyles, lead exposure, or diet, for example.
The biggest effect was seen from diet; if people ate healthier foods, it was estimated that almost 70 percent of ischemic heart disease deaths around the world could be prevented. If everyone kept their systolic blood pressure in the normal (110-115 mmHg) range, about 54 percent of deaths could be prevented. About a quarter of deaths were avoidable by maintaining serum fasting plasma glucose at 4.8-5.4 mmol/L. Stopping smoking and second-hand smoke exposure would halt about a fifth of ischemic heart disease deaths.
There were some effects that were different depending on sex; tobacco is the fourth biggest contributor to men's ischemic heart disease deaths and the seventh for women, while high body mass index is the sixth largest contributor to men's heart disease deaths and the fifth for women.
"Ischemic heart disease is largely preventable with healthy behaviors and individuals should take the initiative to improve their habits," noted Liu. "In addition, geographically tailored strategies are needed. For example, programs to reduce salt intake may have the greatest benefit in regions where consumption is high (e.g. China or central Asia)."
Diet improvements could improve health outcomes not only by reducing heart disease deaths but by lowering deaths due to other causes as well.