DASH Diet Benefits Heart Failure Patients With High Blood Pressure

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Eating a low-sodium diet could produce blood pressure benefits similar to taking anti-hypertension medicine for people with a common kind of heart failure, a small new study suggests.

The research, presented at a meeting of the Heart Failure Society of America and published in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure, showed that three weeks of eating according to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension -- also known as the DASH diet -- improved arterial function in elderly people with "diastolic" heart failure.

"Diastolic" heart failure, or heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, occurs when adequate blood is not able to be pumped out of the heart because of heart stiffness. Researchers noted that more than half of older adults with heart failure have this heart-stiffening condition.

"Our work suggests diet could play an important role in the progression of heart failure, although patients should always talk to their doctor before making major dietary changes," study researcher Dr. Scott Hummel, M.D., a cardiologist at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers had 13 heart failure patients in their 60s and 70s who were also treated for hypertension, consume a DASH diet for 21 days. All of the meals consumed by the patients were prepared in the metabolic kitchen at the University of Michigan Clinical Research Unit, to ensure that they were DASH-diet approved. This preparation ensured that the study participants were consuming no more than 1,150 milligrams of sodium and that the meals were high in antioxidants, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

Researchers found that by the end of the study period, the diet seemed to improve blood transfer between the heart and arteries by promoting left ventricular relaxation and reduced stiffness of the diastolic chamber.

While the DASH diet was developed with high blood pressure in mind, U.S. News has ranked it No. 1 overall in its annual best diets ranking. U.S. News said:

DASH was developed to fight high blood pressure, not as an all-purpose diet. But it certainly looked like an all-star to our panel of experts, who gave it high marks for its nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or control diabetes, and role in supporting heart health. Though obscure, it beat out a field full of better-known diets.

Want to try eating by the DASH diet? Click here for some guidelines from the National Institutes of Health.