DASH diet: two more benefits
As its name indicates, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) plan was designed to lower elevated blood pressure. Since its anti-hypertension effect was proven by NIH researchers in the 1990s, DASH has been found to have other benefits as well. It helps improve blood cholesterol levels and other coronary risk factors, for instance, and may help protect against diabetes and kidney stones. DASH focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products and a reduction in sodium, sweets, and red meat and other foods high in saturated fat.
Now two new studies, both from Johns Hopkins University, suggest additional potential DASH benefits:
- Gout. In a study in Arthritis & Rheumatology, researchers analyzed data from 103 participants in the original landmark clinical trial on DASH, all of whom had hypertension or prehypertension (but no cardiovascular disease or diabetes). They found that after 30 days on DASH, average blood levels of uric acid dropped modestly, but dramatically in participants with high initial levels; gout occurs when too much uric acid builds up in the body. (Contrary to expectations, sodium reduction did not lower uric acid.) Though this study was relatively short and needs to be replicated in people with gout, its findings suggest that DASH may be an effective nondrug way to reduce flare-ups.
- Kidney disease. In a study in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, researchers went back and looked at data from the well-known Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, which followed nearly 15,000 middle-aged adults for more than 20 years, starting in 1987. The participants were not instructed what to eat, but their diets were scored by how closely they came to DASH-style eating. People who had the highest DASH scores were significantly less likely to develop chronic kidney disease (CKD) than those with the lowest scores. About 10 percent of American adults have CKD (which doesn’t include kidney stones), but most don’t know it. DASH may help prevent CKD by lowering blood pressure; hypertension increases CKD risk. The researchers also pointed to the diet’s low acid load, since a high acid load (from red meat, for instance) has been linked to CKD. “Our results provide support for promotion of a DASH-style diet in an even broader segment of the U.S. population for reduced risk for kidney disease in addition to blood pressure reduction and cardiovascular disease prevention,” the researchers concluded.
Bottom line: Heart-healthy dietary patterns such as DASH are likely to have still more unanticipated benefits.