Study: Plant-Based Diets Can Help Reduce Risk of Heart Failure, Kidney Disease

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Two new studies offer even more evidence of the benefits of plant-based eating: Reduced risk of heart failure, and reduced risk of chronic kidney disease.

The heart failure study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Researchers used five major dietary patterns that were identified in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study population, according to a press release on the study. They compared the effect of those patterns on those who have been hospitalized for heart failure and those without known heart disease or heart failure. The REGARDS study used a sample size of 16,608 black and white adults aged 45 and older.

Participants of the study were asked to complete a 150-question survey based on 107 food items, which were categorized into five pre-determined diets:

  • “Convenience” (heavily meat dishes, pasta, Mexican dishes, pizza and fast food)
  • “Plant-based” (vegetables, fruit, beans and fish)
  • “Sweets/fats” (heavy on desserts, bread, sweet breakfast foods, chocolate and other sugar)
  • “Southern” (heavy on fried food, processed meats, eggs, added fats and sugar-sweetened beverages)
  • “Alcohol/salads” (heavy on wine, liquor, beer, leafy greens and salad dressing)

After 8.7 years of follow up on average, there were 363 new heart failure hospitalizations. Researchers found that those who were most adherent to the plant-based diet had a 41% lower risk of new heart failure hospitalization compared to those who were the least adherent. Those who had the highest adherence to the Southern diet were at a 71% higher risk of heart failure hospitalization. That said, when the Southern dietary pattern was adjusted for BMI, waist circumference, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and other factors, the association was no longer statistically significant. Researchers said this could mean that the Southern diet could increase heart failure risk through factors such as obesity and excess abdominal fat, among the other adjusting factors.

The study did not find a statistically significant association between the other remaining dietary patterns and risk of heart failure.

Researchers also observed incidences of heart failure sorted into different subgroups. There were 133 cases of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, which refers to the amount of blood the left ventricle pumps out with each contraction, and 157 cases of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction, i.e., when the heart pumps out too little blood per contraction. They found no significant differences in associations with heart failure by ejection fraction with any of the dietary patterns.

A major strength of the study was the large, diverse sample size that included people from all demographics and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some limitations of the study include possible inaccuracy from the self-reporting of dietary intake, and the fact that diet was only assessed at the start of the study and did not consider changes that may have occurred after that point.

“The need for population based preventive strategies for heart failure is critical,” said Kyla Lara, M.D., lead author of the study and a cardiology fellow at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “These findings support a population-based dietary strategy for lowering the risk of incident heart failure.”

Just days later, a study was published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology showing that adherence to a healthy plant-based diet was linked with a lower risk of developing chronic kidney disease (CKD).

The study was performed on 14,686 middle-aged adults enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, according to a press release on the study. The median follow-up was 24 years, during which 4,343 new cases of CKD occurred.

Participants with the highest adherence to a healthy plant-based diet had a 14% lower risk of developing CKD than participants with the lowest adherence, according to the release.

Casey M. Rebholz, Ph.D., one of the lead researchers, said in the release, “For kidney disease risk, it appears to be important to choose healthy options for plant sources of food, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes.”

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