Meat-heavy diets a heart risk for older women

New research shows there is a link between animal protein and heart failure in postmenopausal women

Fruit, veg, nuts, pulses and grains in small white heart bowls on brown background

New research suggests that middle-aged and older women keen to cut their risk of heart failure should be cutting back on the amount of meat they eat.

A study by the American Heart Association shows that women over the age of 50 who have been through the menopause and have a high-protein diet – especially those who eat a lot of meat – could be at higher risk of heart failure. It is based on the findings of an ongoing survey, the Women’s Health Initiative, which asks women to keep track of their diets in a bid to cut incidences of cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.

Of 103,878 women aged 50-79 who kept a record of their daily diets between 1993 and 1998, 1,711 experienced heart failure during that period, with the rate of heart failure significantly higher among women who consumed more dietary protein than those who ate less or derived their protein from vegetables. It made no difference what their age, race, ethnicity, education or previous medical conditions were.

The author of the study, Mohamad Firas Barbour, an intern at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, suggested that the danger of an older woman’s heart giving out was “substantially increased” if she ate lots of meat, adding: “It appears that following a high-protein diet may increase heart failure risk.”

Yet reassuringly the opposite is also true, he pointed out. Heart failure among postmenopausal women was “highly prevalent but preventable by modifying diet,” Barbour said. “Vegetable protein intake appears to be protective, although additional studies are needed to further explore this potential association.”

Previous studies have already shown that women who eat too much red or processed meat are increasing their risk of stroke, while women who eat plenty of fruit and vegetables can cut the risk of having a stroke by 17 per cent.

The research was presented at this year’s American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions.

 

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