Healthy Life May Help Heart Health More Than Pills

Coronary heart disease mortality decreased with drops in blood pressure and cholesterol from healthy lifestyle

(RxWiki News) Before reaching for the medicine cabinet, consider cleaning up your diet — it may save your life.

A new study found that falls in blood pressure and total cholesterol levels dramatically reduced the risk of heart disease in British adults. Dietary and lifestyle changes caused most of the reduction in risk factors, the authors of this study said.

"Our results strengthen the case for greater emphasis on preventive approaches, particularly population-based policies to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol," wrote lead study author Maria Guzman-Castillo, MD, of the University of Liverpool, and colleagues. "Such strategies might be more powerful, rapid, cost-effective and equitable than additional preventive medications."

Sarah Samaan, MD, a cardiologist at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, TX, said lifestyle choices play a major role in warding off heart disease.

"Although medications are a critical aspect of heart disease prevention, it is well established that as much as 75 percent of cardiovascular disease can be directly traced to lifestyle," Dr. Samaan told dailyRx News. "Exercising at least 2.5 hours per week, choosing a [healthy] diet, avoiding tobacco and maintaining a healthy body weight are key."

Dr. Guzman-Castillo and team reviewed data from British surveys to find the number of heart disease-related deaths postponed or prevented nationwide between 2000 and 2007.

The total number of deaths from coronary heart disease fell by 38,000 over that period of time, this research showed. Of those, more than 20,000 lives were saved due to drops in blood pressure and cholesterol, according to this study.

Coronary heart disease is a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. In the US, it is the most common cause of death for both men and women, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The decrease in blood pressure prevented more than half of heart disease-related deaths, Dr. Guzman-Castillo and team found. While blood pressure medication helped, most of the reduction came from lifestyle changes, these researchers said.

Drops in cholesterol also saved more than 7,000 lives, Dr. Guzman-Castillo and team found. These drops were mostly due to medications, however.

Public health initiatives to reduce salt and fat in processed foods may be more effective than prescribing medications, Dr. Guzman-Castillo and team said.

"In the U.S., food manufacturers and restaurant chains have been asked to voluntarily reduce the amount of salt in their products, but most have been slow to do so," Dr. Samaan said. "Training your taste buds to appreciate a lower level of sodium is very doable, but it is much harder when the food you choose is already loaded with salt. Making a commitment to fresher, unprocessed foods is a great way to clean up your diet and improve your health."

This study was published Jan. 22 in the journal BMJ Open.

The NIHR School of Public Health Research and the Liverpool PCT FSF funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 22, 2015