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Influence of Diet on Heart Health Early in Life, Lasts Years

They are daily decisions, but they add up and influence our heart health years for years to come. What we eat can either be of great help or great hindrance to our cardiovascular health, according to new findings. First, a recent study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, says that the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat as young adults can help prevent heart disease as many as two decades later. Second, a small study in Kentucky suggests a poor diet can inflict early signs of heart disease in children. When it comes to heart disease, there are factors we can’t control, like age and family history. However, these studies highlight the importance of paying attention to those factors we can control – namely, diet.

As young adults, we are often not worried about our heart health, but this new research suggests it is a critical time for our future heart health. Of those studied, men and women in their 20s, who ate the most servings of fruits and vegetables a day lowered their risk of developing calcified plaque in 20 years by 26 percent. That equated to roughly nine servings for women and seven servings for men daily. This is the first study looking at the consumption of fruits and vegetables as early adults and the “measureable improvement in the health of their heart and blood vessels years later.” The main point researchers say we should take away is not to wait to make dietary changes for our heart when something happens later in life. Taking daily preventative medicine – plenty of fruits and vegetables – could help stave off other risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, while also helping us maintain a healthy weight.

However, what if heart disease has already developed by your 20s due to a lifetime of poor eating habits since you were a child? New research is concerning health care providers that eating too much fast food and drinking fruit juice and other sugary drinks as a child could lead to early signs of heart disease as early as the age of eight. The study conducted in Kentucky looked at MRI scans of 40 children between the ages of eight and 16. Half of the children in the study were of normal weight. Half were clinically obese. The scans revealed the obese children had 27 percent more muscle mass in the left ventricular region of the heart, as well as 12 percent thicker heart muscle – indications of heart disease. Researchers say these changes in the heart at this early of an age could lead to heart failure, arrhythmia and even premature death in children who are obese. In addition to making dietary changes, researchers urge parents to promote healthier lifestyles by reducing screen time and adding in at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day into their children’s routine.