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Plant-based diet cuts risk of coronary heart disease

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By David LIu, PHD

Sunday Aug 19, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- Eating a plant-based diet helps prevent or reverse coronary heart disease. One group of most commonly known compounds in a plant based diet which are protective against heart disease are polypheonols which consist of thousands of compounds.

Plant polyphenols are the most abundant antioxidants in human diets, according to E. Ginter and V. Simko.  Ginter and Simko published a report in Bratisl Lek Listy saying that the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with lower risk for coronary heart disease, is rich in plant polyphenols because it contains large amounts of vegetables, fruits, unrefined grain products, legumes, nuts, garlic olive oil and red wine.

However, lower incidence of heart disease is not found only in regions where Mediterranean diet is commonly used.  The authors pointed out that low incidence of coronary heart disease disease is also found in countries where plant food and fish are commonly consumed such as Scandinavia, Switzerland and Austria.  

In his book China Study, Dr. Colin T Campbell, a distinguished nutritionist professor at Cornell University, reports that Chinese people who use a plant-based diet are much less likely to suffer coronary heat disease, cancer, diabetes and other Western diseases, compared to Americans who consume a Western diet consisting of high meat and dairy products and much less fruit and vegetable and unrefined grain products.

The protective benefits of plant polypheonols are observed in epidemiological studies.  Experimental studies have also revealed a number of biologic functions that may have beneficial effects against some inflammation-mediated disorders including coronary heart disease.  Naturally occurring dietary polyphenols have been found to directly scavenge free radicals, adhesion molecules and growth factors receptor genes among other functions.

The evidence suggests, according to the authors, these polyphenolic compounds have potential therapeutic value as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents to prevent or treat coronary heart disease. 

Additionally, plant polyphenols "reduce the generation of oxidized low density lipoproteins (LDL), induce nitric oxide (NO) production, inhibit platelet aggregation and downregulate expression of proinflammatory mediators all of which are beneficial against coronary heart disease," the authors say in their report.

Flavonoid rich foods that have been found associated with reduced risk of death included bran (stroke and Coronary heart disease), apples or pears, or both and red wine (coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease), grapefruit (Coronary heart disease), strawberries (coronary heart disease), and chocolate (coronary heart disease), according to Mink P J and colleagues from Exponent, Inc in Washington DC.

Mink et al. reported in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that eating food high in flavonoids such as chocolate may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. They also found women who had high intake of anthocyanidins were much less likely to have coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and total mortality than those who had no intake.

Studies that led to a similar conclusion are numerous.  Food consumers who want to reduce their risk of coronary hear disease or other Western diseases, particularly those who are known to have a heart condition, should consider using a polyphenols-rich plant-based diet.  Dr, Dean Ornish, a professor of University of California in San Francisco can tell you why.

Coronary heart disease kills more than 600,000 men and women in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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