Low-sodium DASH diet not only lowers high blood pressure, but improves heart function.

The low-sodium DASH diet is known to lower blood pressure in salt-sensitive patients; however University of Michigan researchers say it can also improve heart function in patients with a common type of heart failure.

The University of Michigan (UM) study authors explain that heart failure, or “diastolic” heart failure, often happens when the heart stiffens and the body is unable to pump enough blood out. This condition is found in more than half of older adults who are suffering from heart failure, and though taking diuretics can provide some relief by ridding the body of excess fluid, this type of heart failure currently has no treatment. However, the researchers found that the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet can improve left ventricular relaxation and reduce diastolic chamber stiffness, meaning a more efficient transfer of blood between the heart and arteries.

For the study, thirteen heart failure patients most in their 60s and 70s, agreed to keep food diaries and eat only the DASH diet meals prepared for them at the UM Clinical Research Unit. The DASH diet eating plan is high in potassium, magnesium, calcium and antioxidants and is recommended for the treatment of high blood pressure by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.

Researchers also included a daily sodium intake of no more than 1,150 milligrams in the diet. This is much lower than what U.S. adults usually consume – about 4,200 mg a day for men, and 3,300 mg a day for women. After 21 days on the diet, patients saw a similar drop in blood pressure as if they had taken anti-hypertension medicine.

Scott Hummel, M.D., cardiologist at UM Frankel Cardiovascular Center, commented that their work proposes that “diet could play an important role in the progression of heart failure, although patients should always talk to their doctor before making major dietary changes. We’re excited to confirm these results in longer-term studies that also help us understand the challenges patients face when they try to improve their eating habits.”

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