Heart Health in Your Cereal Bowl

Healthnotes Newswire (November 29, 2007)—Starting the day off with a whole-grain breakfast cereal might help prevent heart failure, reports a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Heart failure—when the heart can no longer pump blood efficiently—is most commonly caused by coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing when lying down, fatigue, confusion, lack of appetite, and swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs.

About 5 million Americans are living with heart failure and 300,000 people die from it each year. In the United Kingdom, heart failure accounts for about 4% of all deaths annually.

Controlling the risk factors for heart failure might help prevent it. Studies have shown that cereals contain certain nutrients that can help decrease the risk of high blood pressure and improve blood sugar levels. Until now, it has not been known if eating cereal might also decrease heart failure risk.

The new study, which was part of the Physician’s Health Study, looked at the eating habits of 21,376 male doctors over a period of about 20 years to see what effect cold breakfast cereal had on heart failure incidence.

Men who ate seven or more servings of cereal per week had a 29% lower risk of heart failure. When comparing whole-grain versus refined cereals, the researchers discovered that only whole-grain cereals protected against heart failure, most likely because of whole grains’ positive effects on health conditions that put people at risk for heart failure, including hypertension, myocardial infarction, diabetes, and obesity.

When grains are refined, they lose much of their nutritional value. In their unrefined state, grains are rich sources of fiber, B vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds (phytochemicals) such as lignans and phenols, which play a role in blood pressure regulation and protection from certain cancers.

Although more studies are needed to confirm these findings, the team concluded that “a higher intake of whole grains along with other preventive measures could help lower the risk of heart failure.”

(Arch Intern Med 2007;167:2080–5)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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