Addressing hypertension, reducing sodium intake and avoiding trans fat could improve the heart health of 94 million people – study
01/31/2020 // Arsenio Toledo // Views

A new study suggests that treating high blood pressure, cutting down on salt intake and eliminating trans fats from people's diets could prevent nearly 100 million people from prematurely dying due to heart issues. This study, published in the journal Circulation, is estimating that these three interventions could significantly reduce the number of people dying from cardiovascular diseases by half over the next 20 years.

The researchers came up with the massive number by using global data from multiple studies on mean blood pressure levels and trans fat and sodium intake, estimates from the World Health Organization and population health surveys, which include surveys of people with hypertensive issues. They also looked at cause-specific mortality rates and mortality projections from 2015 to 2040. Using this data, they quantified the impact on global mortality of three feasible and high-impact interventions: Reducing table salt intake, eliminating the consumption of trans fats and proper treatment of hypertension, or high blood pressure.

Hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Salt and trans fats are found in high amounts in many of the processed foods people eat today. Reducing table salt intake by just 30 percent can save around 40 million people. Eliminating trans fats from the diet altogether can account for another 14.8 million lives saved. Furthermore, providing adequate natural treatment for just 70 percent of people with high blood pressure would save another 39.4 million people. This adds up to an estimated 94.2 million lives saved by 2040. (Related: Low intake of fresh fruits and vegetables linked to cardiovascular death: Following a balanced diet boosts heart health.)


Preventing cardiovascular disease around the globe

Goodarz Danaei, associate professor of global health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead author of the study, believes that drastic steps must be taken in order to improve the heart health of people everywhere. He also believes that it is important to focus resources on combating the three listed triggers for cardiovascular disease in order to have a "huge potential impact" on cardiovascular health by the year 2040. He and his team believe that these measures require a large-scale effort to implement and maintain for decades, but it can be done and it is affordable.

The researchers said that focusing their resources in South Asia, East Asia, the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa would give the interventions the biggest impact. Furthermore, their estimates suggested that two-thirds of the deaths prevented will be among men under the age of 70. This is important considering that men have the highest numbers of deaths resulting from noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

To back up their claims, Danaei and his team pointed to data that showed that 90 percent of patients in a program in Northern California improved their blood pressure control between 2001 and 2013 through a series of improved treatment protocols, patient-friendly services and easier access to healthcare information systems that monitored their hypertension. There's little doubt that the program's success rate would have been significantly higher if they had factored in natural health practices in their treatment. The researchers even said that many developing nations have used similar programs to tackle hypertension among their populations.

The researchers are confident that these three interventions will be effective and can save almost 100 million lives around the world within 25 years of its implementation. However, a massive national and international mobilization is needed to fully enact these treatments. Countries all over the world would have to commit resources to boosting healthcare capacity and quality. With an estimated 17.9 million people worldwide (610,000 in the US alone) dying from cardiovascular disease annually, perhaps it's a sacrifice the world desperately needs to make to save lives.

"These are realistic goals that have been shown to be attainable on smaller scales," Danaei said. "We need the commitment to scale up the programs to achieve them globally."

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