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Plant-Based Diets: Report Says Good for Heart and Brain

Ziryan Aziz explores how reducing meat and dairy consumption is better for your body, your mind and the world.

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Photo by Lisa Fotios

A new study from The Boston University School of Medicine has found that plant-based diets may be linked to a decreased risk of heart failure, as well as a reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

The researchers point out that adopting diets such as the Mediterranean and DASH diets (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which involve a high intake of plant-based foods such as berries & leafy greens and a reduced consumption of animal products or foods with high saturated fats, can be a way to significantly reduce heart failure.

To put this into perspective, 7.6 million Brits currently live with heart and circulatory diseases, and 450 people die every year.

MIND Diets, Heart Failure & Cognitive Function

Previous studies have shown that heart failure is linked to an increased risk in the later decline of cognitive function, as well as the development of neurological disorders such as Dementia. Changes to cardiac structure and function (known as ‘cardiac remodeling’) preceding symptoms of heart failure are also linked to overall poor cerebral health and cognitive function.

The researchers found, however, that adopting plant-based diets like MIND (which combines Mediterranean and DASH diets), is linked to supporting the heart’s left ventricular function, which pumps oxygenated blood around the body. This study focused on MIND diet scores, using echocardiographic data from 2512 participants of the Framingham Heart Study (Offspring Cohort) to measure cardiac structure and function. They observed that dietary patterns based on foods understood to improve neurocognitive function also prevent cardiac remodeling.

The author of the study, Vanessa Xanthakis, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and biostatistics at BUSM, and investigator for the Framingham Heart Study, concluded:

“Our findings highlight the importance of adherence to the MIND diet for a better cardiovascular health and further reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in the community”

However, she has noted that due to busy modern-day schedules, adopting these diets may not always be easy, but people should nevertheless make a concerted effort to adhere to healthy eating to reduce risk of disease.

Other Benefits to Plant-Based Diets

Additional studies have shown a number of physiological and health benefits to increasing the proporition of plant-based foods in your diet. These benefits include a reduced risk of cancer, as shown in a study of 70,000 participants, as well as a reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and a reduction in cholesterol levels.

One of the non-health reasons for reducing your intake of meat and dairy – which is increasingly popular amongst millennials and younger generations – is to reduce the environmental impact that livestock farming is having on the environment. Intensive animal agriculture requires an increasing amount of land, water and energy to rear livestock, not to mention often facilitating inhumane living and transportation conditions.

A recent report from Chatham House concluded that animal farming is disproportionately responsible for biodiversity loss, and a reformation in the global food system is necessary to mitigate rising temperatures and climate change.

Nevertheless, with 850,000 people in the UK currently living with dementia, and that number set to double by 2040, the recent study provides an insight into the evidence that changing our diets to incorporate more plant-based foods can have a long-term positive impact on our health and wellbeing.


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