Under-nutrition Linked to Heart Disease

Nutrition reduces risk of coronary heart disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Women who don't receive adequate food and nutrition as they are growing up, particularly during the adolescent years, may be more likely to develop coronary artery disease later in life.

A study of women who were children or young adults during the Dutch famine between 1944 through 1945, and suffered from acute undernutrition during that time have seen long lasting health effects.

"Ensure your children consume nutritious meals each day."

Annet van Abeelen, author of the study and a PhD epidemiology student at the Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care at the University Medical Center Utrecht, said the study shows how crucial the role of childhood is to adult health.

She noted that though changes in body function to accommodate undernutrition may be beneficial to short term survival, it can lead lead to chronic diseases in later years.

Researchers investigated 7,845 women who were under the age of 21 and living in the Netherlands during at food shortage shortly after World War II. Officials daily rations during that period dropped from 1400 calories in October 1944 to between 400 and 800 calories at the height of the famine.

The women were recruited to the study between 1993 and 1997 to participate in a breast cancer screening program. They were followed through 2007. They were divided into groups including women with no or little exposure to the famine, moderately exposed women and severely exposed women, who were subjected to hunger and weight loss.

Compared to unexposed women, risk of coronary heart disease, which can lead to a heart attack, was slightly higher for those with moderate exposure to the famine, but significantly higher for those who were severely exposed.

After adjusting for various factors including smoking, education and socio-economic status, it was found that severely exposed women were at a 27 percent higher risk for coronary artery disease as compared to those who were not exposed. Women who were between the ages of 10 and 17 at the beginning of the famine and who were severely exposed had a statistically significant 38 percent increased risk for coronary heart disease.

An additional analysis showed that the risk of stroke appeared to be lower for women of all ages who were exposed to famine. Women exposed between the ages of 18 and 21 had the lowest risk of stroke as compared to those who were not exposed. Abeelen said additional research is needed for the findings on stroke because those results were based on 235 cases.

Researchers suggested several reasons for the increased heart disease risk including unhealthy lifestyles, metabolism changes and traumatic stress, and said the findings remain relevant today in showing the implications on disturbed postnatal development on adult life.

"Undernutrition is still a major concern in the world as well as parts of the United States. Undernutrition doesn't only affect people who are poor and starving but also people at lower socioeconomic and education levels who choose foods that are low in nutritional values,"  said Diane Shiao, PT, MSPT, DPT .

"Constant feelings of hunger and starvation is a definite stressor to the body both physically and mentally. High stress levels for long periods of time has been shown in studies to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease."

The research was published in the European Heart Journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 29, 2011
Last Updated:
September 1, 2011