DASH diet benefits may be due to phytonutrients

November 01, 2004 Printer Friendly
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DASH diet benefits may be due to phytonutrients



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DASH diet benefits may be due to phytonutrients
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was demonstrated in a multicenter clinical trial to be helpful in lowering hypertension and blood lipids, which, when elevated, are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The diet contains low levels of fat and sodium, and desirable amounts of fiber, potassium, magnesium and calcium, which are provided by the inclusion of a greater number of fruits, vegetables and whole grains than the control diet used in the study. The diet also recommends low fat dairy foods and lean meats. In a research brief published in the November 2004 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Marlene M Most, PhD, of Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana suggests that the DASH diet’s benefits might be in part due to the phytochemicals occurring in the plant foods it contains, and that these benefits may go beyond controlling lipids and hypertension.

Using US Department of Agriculture food composition databases, Dr Most found that the DASH diet provides higher levels of flavonols, flavanones, flavan-3-ols, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin, and phytosterols than the control diet. These dietary compounds have been found in numerous studies to be associated with a lower incidence of diseases such as macular degeneration, some cancers, and of course, cardiovascular disease. Dr Most concluded, "It therefore is possible that the health benefits of the DASH diet are partly attributable to the phytochemicals and might extend beyond cardiovascular disease reduction."

The protective effects of these phytochemicals may occur through their antioxidant activity and by modifying detoxification enzyme profiles. The compounds may also work by affecting cholesterol and steroid metabolism. Another possible mechanism of action is the reduction of C-reactive protein, which some epidemiologic studies suggest could be accomplished by diets such as the DASH diet. Because these flavonoids, carotenoids and phytosterols have been found to help prevent cardiovascular disease, it is plausible that the DASH diet’s reason for success lies in its high levels of these compounds in addition to the targeted nutrients.


Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the primary and most important manifesting symptom of hypertensive vascular disease. A diseased vasculature predisposes one to further hypertension, and thus, further vascular disease. Hypertension often progresses with the development of various diseases involving the circulatory system, such as arteriosclerosis, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, and disorders of coagulation (stroke, hemorrhage, heart attack), immunity (inflammation, infection), and diabetes. All of these disorders are both causative and secondary to the development of hypertension.

Hypertension can be controlled through use of natural supplements. Mainstream practitioners believe that only prescription medications are proven to reduce hypertension. Yet, supplements are scientifically proven to help normalize blood pressure (Espeland et al. 1999).

The DASH study (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) clearly indicates a strong dietary role for adequate potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as derived from natural diets, as beneficial to cardiovascular diseases (Appel et al. 1997). Oral potassium supplements lower blood pressure (Whelton et al. 1997). The mechanism of action of potassium may include natriuresis, reduced renin release, antagonism of the pressor effects of angiotensin II, direct vasodilation, enhanced endothelial-dependent vasodilation, decreased vasoconstrictive thromboxanes, and increased vasodilatory kallidin (Morris and Sebastian 1995).

The DASH diet is recommended by both mainstream and integrative medical practitioners as a first line approach to the management of hypertension (Appel et al. 1997; Maizes, 2002). The DASH diet is high in fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods that are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium. The diet encourages a reduction of saturated fats in favor of monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids as found in fish oil. Salt restriction to less than 2,400 mg (about one teaspoon) a day is also recommended for people with hypertension. People who follow the DASH diet can decrease their systolic/diastolic pressure by 11/6 points (Cushman et al. 1998).

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Life Extension Magazine November 2004



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Dayna Dye
Editor, Life Extension Update
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