Since the risk factors for heart disease--for example stiffening of the arteries and fatty streaks in them--may manifest themselves long before a heart attack occurs, there's been a perception that reversing the risk factors may take a long time. But in an editorial in the journal Open Heart, Dr. Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist from the Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey, UK along with his colleagues, say that some diet and lifestyle changes can reverse such risk factors relatively quickly.
These authors buttress their position with evidence such as:
- smoking cessation can reduce heart disease deaths within months
- eating fatty fish can provide secondary prevention of heart attacks within months, as can omega-3 fatty acids
- within three months of switching to a diet high in olive oil or nuts, major cardiovascular events are reduced by 30 percent
They further opine that simply focusing on weight loss to control heart disease risk is too narrow. Rather, the group states that shifting focus away from calories and emphasising a dietary pattern that focuses on food quality rather than quantity, will help to rapidly reduce obesity, related diseases and cardiovascular risk. The editorialists also aver that pharmacotherapy can have only modest benefits in chronic disease management.
While there certainly is no reason to argue with advising individuals to consume healthful diets, the concept that only telling people to consume more olive oil, flaxseed or nuts will help reduce both obesity and heart disease risk is likely too simplistic. Extrapolation from experimental studies to free-living individuals is often fraught with problems, not the least of which is the inability of most people to accurately assess their dietary intake.
ACSH senior nutrition fellow Dr. Ruth Kava commented: There s nothing wrong with emphasizing foods likely to help reduce risk, but the idea that this is the most important means of fighting obesity seems too good to be true. Calories will always count, whether the diet is low fat, low carb, or balanced, and telling people that they don t is ignoring the basic principles underlying the control of body weight.