For the majority of us, cardiovascular diseases (CVD), like heart attack and stroke, should never be a threat as up to 90 percent of cases are related to lifestyle and environmental factors that can be controlled. This has recently been demonstrated again in terms of the risk of stroke. The traditional risk factors for CVD, as described in the Framingham Study and others, include smoking, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and a family history of early heart disease. In reality, there are dozens and even hundreds of factors that are at least related to CVD, some of which, like TMAO, might play in a role of the development of the disease. Recently, two interesting factors that play a role in the development of CVD have been described that are off the beaten path and are worthy of attention.
In the first, the role of loneliness and social isolation was investigated in terms of the risk of developing CVD. Over 25 years ago, Dr. Dean Ornish emphasized the important role of avoiding isolation and depression through group meetings in a program that demonstrated for the first time the reversal of CVD with lifestyle. In the new study, 16 databases involving over 35,000 adults were reviewed including over 7,000 strokes and heart attacks that occurred over the years of study. Poor social relationships were associated with a 29 percent increase in the risk of heart disease and a 32% increase in the risk of stroke. A variety of interventions from group meetings to educational and social programming to programs that encourage new friends were discussed by the investigators. They wrote that "tackling loneliness and isolation may be a valuable addition" to standard CVD and stroke prevention.
The second study described a pathway to happiness not considered in the first study, dietary factors. Over 13,000 subjects were followed longitudinally from 2007 to 2013 and correlations between dietary factors and happiness were examined. Yearly interviews and questionnaires were performed. The investigators described a positive relationship between the number of fruits and vegetables consumed and a scale of life satisfaction and happiness. No other food group had the strength of correlation that increasing consumption of produce had. Over the years of the study, a national campaign to increase fruit and vegetable consumption was successful and tracked an increase in measures of well-being and happiness.
These new data suggest that group activities bringing people together to avoid isolation and loneliness while supporting healthy eating concentrated on fruits and vegetables may reduce the development of CVD. As an owner of a large plant based restaurant in suburban Detroit, I take comfort that when our restaurant is full of happy gourmands, a common occurrence, we are reducing the risk of CVD through multiple pathways of connection, balanced microbiomes, and arterial health leading to more life in our years and more years in our life. Bon Appetit with friends.