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Plant-Based Foods Improve the Health of Postmenopausal Women, AHA Says

New research from the American Heart Association (AHA) reveals how a plant-based diet reduces cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women.

For him study, the researchers evaluated a specific way of eating called the “Portfolio Diet,” which consists of a wide variety of plant-based foods. It has been associated with lower cholesterol levels and fewer cardiovascular disease events in postmenopausal women.

The Portfolio Diet includes the following foods and guidelines:

  • walnuts;
  • Vegetable protein from soy, beans or tofu;
  • viscous soluble fiber from foods such as apples, berries, oranges, eggplants, okra, oats, and barley;
  • plant sterols from fortified foods such as cereals;
  • monounsaturated fats in olive oil and canola or avocados, and;
  • limited amounts of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol.

Two previous randomized trials showed that people who ate the most foods on the Portfolio Diet had significantly lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL). In fact, the first group lower LDL levels than those who follow a traditional diet of the National Education and Cholesterol Program low in saturated fat. The other group had levels similar to those who took a statin medications to lower cholesterol.

Study details

For the study, the researchers investigated whether postmenopausal women who followed a portfolio diet had a lower risk of heart disease. The study included 123,330 American women who volunteered for the prospective cohort study of the Women’s Health Initiative. The long-term national study analyzed risk factors, prevention and early detection of serious health risks in postmenopausal women.

The women who participated in the study were enrolled between 1993 and 1998 and were between the ages of 50 and 79 (mean age: 62). They had no cardiovascular disease at the time of enrollment. The researchers followed the study group until 2017 and gave each participant food frequency questionnaires to track their adherence to the Portfolio Diet.

The researchers tracked the primary outcomes for total CVD, coronary heart disease, and stroke. Secondary outcomes were heart failure and atrial fibrillation. During a mean follow-up period of 15.3 years, there were 13,365 total CVDs, 5,640 coronary heart diseases, 4,440 strokes, 1,907 cases of heart failure, and 929 episodes of atrial fibrillation.

How Plant-Based Foods Improve the Health of Postmenopausal Women

Self-reported questionnaires revealed the following:

  • Women who followed the diet more strictly were 11% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease. They were also 14% less likely to develop coronary heart disease and 17% less likely to suffer from heart failure.
  • However, there was no link between strict adherence to the Portfolio Diet and cases of atrial fibrillation or stroke.

“These results present an important opportunity, as there is still room for people to incorporate more plant-based, cholesterol-lowering foods into their diets. With even greater adherence to the Portfolio dietary pattern, one would expect an association with even fewer cardiovascular events, perhaps as much as cholesterol-lowering medications. Still, an 11% reduction is clinically significant and would reach the lowest threshold of benefit for anyone. The results indicate that the Portfolio diet produces benefits for heart health, ”said John Sievenpiper, MD, Ph.D., lead author of the study at St. Michael’s Hospital, a Unity Health Toronto site in Ontario, Canada, and Associate Professor of Nutritional Sciences and Medicine at the University of Toronto.

Do you want better health? Eat more plants

The study authors believe that these results should attract the attention of healthcare professionals around the world. Encouraging patients to eat more of the Portfolio Diet can reduce heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular events. Plant-based diets they continue to grow in popularity due to ethical and environmental concerns. If eating more plants becomes the norm, we may soon have a health epidemic.

“We also found a dose response in our study, which means you can start small, add one component of the Portfolio Diet at a time, and get more heart health benefits as you add more components,” he said Andrea J. Glenn, M .Sc., RD, lead author of the study and a doctoral student at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto.

Although the study only included postmenopausal women, the researchers believe the findings warrant trials in other populations. To date, the study provides the strongest evidence on the long-term benefits of the Portfolio diet in preventing cardiovascular disease. However, the team says they are awaiting the results of a clinical trial involving cardiovascular events for further confirmation. Meanwhile, this observational study shows that following the Portfolio Diet improves the overall health of postmenopausal women.

The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health and Diabetes of Canada. It was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association on August 4, 2021.

Other healthy habits for postmenopausal women

It’s no secret that eating more plants will improve your health tenfold. Previous studies show that postmenopausal women in particular benefit from plant-based diets. However, health is more than just eating. Here are some things to keep in mind after menopause, depending on Johns Hopkins Medicine:

  • Consider your intake of vitamin D and calcium. Aim for 1,200 mg of calcium per day and 500 to 800 IU of vitamin D to keep your bones strong.
  • Get regular exercise. Weight training several times a week along with light aerobic exercise helps control weight gain, improve mood, and preserve bone mass.
  • Keep your stress low and avoid smoking. Postmenopausal women are at increased risk for heart disease due to hormonal changes. To minimize your risk, practice stress-reducing exercises, such as deep breathing and meditation. Avoid smoking, as this greatly increases your risk of heart disease.

Final Thoughts on a Study Showing Plant-Based Foods Reduce Disease Risk in Women Over 50

A recent AHA study shows that postmenopausal women have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease if they follow plant-based diets. The researchers tracked women who followed the Portfolio Diet and found that it reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by 11%. The diet also reduced the risk of coronary heart disease and heart failure by 14% and 17%, respectively. These results are statistically significant and show that nature is indeed the best medicine.

Researchers await a clinical trial that measures how the Portfolio Diet and exercise impact the risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.


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