For heart attack survivors, eating more dietary fiber may help increase long-term survival.
In a new study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers found that heart attack survivors who ate the most fiber had a 25 percent lower chance of dying in the nine years following their heart attack, compared to those who at the least fiber. Increasing fiber intake by 10g per day was associated with a 15 percent lower risk of dying over the same period.
Among healthy populations, high fiber intake has been associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease, but researchers sought to investigate the nutrient’s effect on those who already experienced a heart attack.
“The advantage of this study is we can look at not only eating more fiber after a heart attack to reduce risk of dying, but also supply evidence that increasing consumption from before to after [a heart attack] lowers mortality,” study author Shanshan Li, a post-doc research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, told FoxNews.com.
The study used data from the Nurses’ Health Study, comprised of 121,700 female nurses, and the Health Professional Follow-Up Study, which included data from 51,529 male health professionals. During the course of the study, 2,258 women and 1,840 men survived a first myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack, while 682 women and 451 men died.
Results were adjusted for age, medical history, medications and other dietary and lifestyle habits.
In their analysis of participant questionnaires, researchers looked at three different types of fiber: cereal, fruit and vegetable. Cereal was the only type of fiber strongly associated with an increased chance of long-term survival. Sources of cereal fiber include whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, oatmeal and brown rice.
The daily recommended fiber intake is 25g per day for women and 38g per day for men. Less than 5 percent of Americans consume the minimum amount, researchers said.
“If [heart attack survivors] can meet that recommendation level, they could make a great improvement,” Li said.
Researchers believe the underlying biological mechanism that protects a healthy population from heart attack is similar to that which improves mortality in a heart attack survivor.
Li noted that more people survive heart attacks today compared to 20 years ago. Thanks to advances in clinical care and medication management, mortality is lower for heart attack survivors. However, patients today are also more obese and have a higher prevalence of diabetes than in the past.
While survivors may feel there’s little they can do to improve their health after a heart attack, these findings indicate this is not the case.
“It’s never too late for heart attack patients to start eating healthy and increasing their dietary fiber intake,” Li said.