High-fibre diet linked to lower death risk after heart attack

Written by Reuters | Washington | Updated: May 7 2014, 17:08pm hrs
Fibre rich foodA high-fibre diet lowers death risk for people after heart attacks. (Thinkstock)
In a large U.S. study of men and women with a heart attack in their past, those who had upped their fibre intake the most afterwards had the lowest risk of death.

The pattern held true even after researchers accounted for medications that lower cholesterol, suggesting its important not to rely just on drugs to cut future risks, the authors said.

There are additional benefits that come from eating healthy, said Shanshan Li, the studys lead author and an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Diet plays an important role in the development of heart and artery disease, Li and her co-authors write in the journal BMJ, but little is known about the difference dietary fibre might make after a heart attack.

The researchers analyzed data from the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, two long-term studies that follow the health and risk factors of women and men across the United States.

At the beginning of the study period the 2,258 women and 1,840 men included in the analysis had survived a first heart attack and had never had a stroke.

Before and after their heart attacks, all participants had filled out questionnaires about how often they ate common foods over the previous year, ranking them from never to six or more times per day.

Researchers used this information to calculate total fibre intake and kept track of whether each participants fibre came from grains, fruits or vegetables.

Participants were followed for a median of about nine years; in that time, 336 women and 451 men died from heart disease-related causes, such as a second heart attack, clogged arteries in the heart and stroke. A total of 682 women and 451 men died of any cause.

The study also took into account factors that could by themselves affect mortality, such as weight, exercise and taking medicines to lower cholesterol.

Li and her team found that for every 10-gram increase in total fibre intake, the risk of death from any cause dropped by 15 percent. The recommended daily fibre intake for women is 25 grams and 38 grams for men.

The authors point out that only fibre from grains, including cereals, was linked to lowered risk, and a high intake of this type of fibre was associated with a 28 percent lower risk of death compared to people who ate the least fibre.

Notably, the amount of fibre participants ate regularly before the first heart attack was not related to the odds of dying later. However, the more a person boosted fibre intake after the heart attack, the lower their risk of death.

The results line up with what was already known about fibre intake and heart disease, said Vivian Mo, a cardiologist and director of the Women's Cardiovascular Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

A high-fibre diet has been linked to lower cholesterol levels, which is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, Mo said.

Still, the study goes beyond that by showing that eating more fibre is associated with a lower risk of death although it doesnt prove that its the fibre itself that makes the difference, she said.

For example, people who eat lots of fibre likely practice healthy habits and eat an overall healthy diet as compared to those who dont eat much fibre, she said.

There are so many differences between people who eat more or less fibre; its not just the fibre, Mo told Reuters Health. But the fact that people who changed their diet the most after a heart attack had the lowest risk of death is encouraging.

Its never too late to make a change, such as starting to eat healthier, Li said.