Heart health is affected by diet. Experts recommend that you eat a low-sodium diet and a low amount of saturated fat to lower your risk of developing heart disease. Healthy eating habits include plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains. Research has shown that the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, and fish, as well as cereals and legumes with low amounts of meat and dairy, may reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
A few studies have not examined the link between sudden cardiac death, which is a common cause of death in the United States. Sudden cardiac death is when the heart stops beating abruptly and causes death within one hour. Studies have shown that sudden cardiac death may be reduced by eating a Mediterranean diet.
Dr. James M. Shikany, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, examined whether sudden cardiac death risk is linked to dietary habits. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institute on Aging, and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the NIH funded the study. The Journal of the American Heart Association published the results on July 6, 2021.
Researchers used a questionnaire to assess the diets and habits of more than 21,000 participants. Participants were asked to tell the researchers how many and what amounts they had eaten 110 foods over the past year. Participants were asked whether they had ever suffered from coronary heart disease. The long-running REGARDS (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke Study) included participants.
Researchers calculated a Mediterranean diet score based on responses to questionnaires. Five dietary patterns were also identified by researchers. One of these patterns, the “Southern”, is high in added fats, fried foods, eggs, organ meats and sugar-sweetened drinks. There were also a variety of dietary patterns, including a sweets pattern with high levels of added sugar, a convenience pattern that consists mainly of only ready-to-eat food and take-out, and an “alcohol- and salad” one.
Researchers assessed how closely participants followed each dietary pattern. One example is that a person could follow the Mediterranean diet but also follow the “sweets” plan but to a lesser extent. The average time they kept track of heart events was 10 years.
During the study, more than 400 sudden cardiac death occurred. Analyses revealed that a Mediterranean diet could reduce sudden cardiac death risk while eating a Southern-style diet can increase your risk.
Participants who ate a Southern diet had 46% more sudden cardiac death risk than those who adhered to the least. People who closely followed the Mediterranean diet had 26% less sudden cardiac death risk than those who were not as strict. These differences were borderline statistically significant (not enough evidence to show they weren’t due either to chance or another factor). The statistically significant 41% drop in sudden cardiac death risk among those who ate a Mediterranean diet was seen in those without coronary heart disease. This is compared with those who ate the least.
Shikany states that although the study was only observational, it suggests that diet could be a modifiable risk factor in sudden cardiac death.