According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart failure afflicts 5.7 million Americans, and accounted for 1 of every 9 deaths in 2009. The major dietary culprits cited in the development of heart failure are no surprise—sodium, cholesterol, and fat.
But a recent study conducted by researchers at Brown University Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island and presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2016 in New Orleans, reveals an added dietary offender that may greatly increase heart failure risk—protein!
How Protein Helps and Harms
Protein is an essential nutrient needed for healthy and strong bones, skin, and muscle. Previous studies have shown that a diet high in protein helps to accelerate metabolism, promote weight loss, and enhance overall health.
Other research, however, indicates that too much protein can have adverse effects on health. A 2014 study published in Cell Metabolism, for instance, connected a high-protein diet to a greater incidence of diabetes, cancer, and all-cause mortality. It does appear that the type of protein matters. Protein from meat sources, such as red meat, pork, poultry, dairy products, and seafood, are more likely to increase disease risk than plant-based sources.
What Researchers Discovered About High-Protein Diets and Heart Failure
Researchers collated data from 103,878 postmenopausal women between the ages of 50-79 years old who had participated in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). The women filled out a food frequency survey that accounted for daily consumption of approximately 125 different foods between 1993 and 1998. The researchers analyzed the data for daily protein intake, noting the amount of protein sourced from animals and the amount of protein sourced from plants.
Self-reporting isn’t the most accurate testing model, so researchers also tested for protein intake with urinary nitrogen and doubly labeled water levels that measure metabolism. None of the women had heart failure at the beginning of the study, but by 2005, 1,711 women had been diagnosed with heart failure.
The research revealed that compared to women with low protein intake, women with high protein intake had a much greater risk for heart failure, especially if their protein came from animal products.
A high-protein diet appeared to increase heart failure risk regardless of race/ethnicity, age, education level, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, anemia, or arterial fibrillation. The results also suggested a link between a diet high in plant-based proteins and a lower incidence of heart failure, but when researchers factored in body mass index (BMI), the link was not statistically significant.
Study co-author Dr. Mohamad Firas Barbour sums up the results: “Higher calibrated total dietary protein intake appears to be associated with substantially increased heart failure risk while vegetable protein intake appears to be protective, although additional studies are needed to further explore this potential association.”