A bowl of cereal and whole meal bread are just some of the foods that can help those who have had a heart attack live longer. A new study shows that adding more dietary fiber after a heart attack helps survivors add more years.
People who survive heart attacks have a greater chance of living longer by increasing the dietary fiber they consume, particularly cereal fiber, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. Those who ate the most fiber had a 25 percent lower chance of dying during the years after their heart attack than those who ate less fiber. The researchers found that every 10g a day increase in their fiber intake translated into a 15 percent lower risk of succumbing over the nine-year study follow-up period.
Research has long shown that healthy people who consume a lot of dietary fiber have less risk of developing heart disease in the first place. But the new research shows that eating more fiber after a heart attack helps too. The research team was looking for steps people who survive heart attacks can take to improve their long-term health prospects besides merely taking medication.
The Boston-based researchers analyzed data from two broad American studies of healthcare professionals that included detailed lifestyle questionnaires completed by participants: the Nurses’ Health Study of 121,700 females and the Health Professional Follow-up Study of 51,529 males.
During the course of the studies, there were 2,258 women and 1,840 men who survived a first heart attack. Within the nine years after their heart attack, 682 of the women and 451 of the men died.
The research team then divided the approximately 4,000 heart attack survivors into five groups (quintiles) based on how much fiber the lifestyle questionnaires answers showed that they ate after their heart attack. The top group – the 20 percent who ate the most fiber – had a 25 percent lower chance of dying from any cause during the period compared with the bottom quintile – the 20 percent who ate least fiber. When looking at cardiovascular causes of death (heart attack, stroke and coronary disease), the top quintile had a 13 percent lower mortality risk than the bottom one.
Of the types of fiber, the study showed that only cereal fiber, particularly breakfast cereal, could be associated with an increased chance of long-term survival. One theory why is that eating a lot of dietary cereal fiber can improve blood lipid levels and reduce risk of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Conversely, eating a low-fiber diet increases the risk of colorectal cancer.
Fiber also helps fight obesity and its consequences. It takes more time to chew fiber, which makes the body feel less hungry. In addition, its bulk makes meals feel bigger, which diminishes overeating.
The health benefits of fiber have been well publicized, but tend to be ignored. Less than 5 percent of American adults get the recommended minimum fiber amounts (25g per day for women and 38g per day for men). In the United Kingdom, the recommended levels are 18g of fiber daily; however, surveys suggest adults there average only 14g of fiber.
The research team recommends further study on successful lifestyle change options after a heart attack rather than relying on medical management. Until more is known, heart attack survivors – and those trying to prevent them – would benefit and likely add more years to their lives by adding more fiber to their diet.
By Dyanne Weiss