Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, and about 610,000 Americans die of it every year-that's one in every four.1 CVD treatment and prevention is complex and every patient's story is unique, however, it's well known that a healthy diet and regular exercise program are crucial to reducing the risk of CVD. Despite the importance of healthy living, it can be difficult for individuals to adhere to a program or plan that does not fit well into their individual daily lifestyle and diet preferences.
A landmark study showed that it's a patient's adherence to a prescribed plan that is the most important factor in weight loss and lowering risk of heart disease.2 Finding a nutrition program that patients adhere to begins with a focus on personalized, healthy eating patterns. The same dietary advice cannot be applicable for every patient because everyone is different. Recent dietary and lifestyle guidelines align with this focus on overall healthy dietary patterns.
In 2014, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association published guidelines for lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk. These guidelines aim for a lower saturated fat intake. Dietary strategy should be limited in sugar, trans fats and red meats, and include a plethora of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lean proteins, low-fat dairy and nuts. Additionally, these guidelines state that people can meet the necessary recommendations through various eating strategies and that the diet should be personalized to the individual.3
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines include three main updates to the 2010 guidelines: the removal of a limit on dietary cholesterol, the addition of a specific limit on added sugars to less than 10% of calories, and an emphasis on achieving an overall healthy dietary pattern rather than focusing on individual nutrients.4
These updated lifestyle management guidelines have catalyzed a paradigm shift away from the pre-determined fad diets and generic wellness programs, and instead towards effective, scientifically-designed, personalized eating and exercising strategies and programs. These next-generation nutrition programs make healthy eating easier by arming patients with the specific tools they need to change the way they eat and live.
Patient Success Story
In fact, there is a lifestyle program currently available that uses scientific nutrition matching to improve biomarker test results and reduce risk of heart disease - many patients are already seeing real results.
One such patient is Don Needham, 77. Don had an elevated calcium score, and his total and LDL cholesterol levels hovered around 250 and 210, respectively. Eventually, his total cholesterol levels shot up to 280 and his calcium score hit 2900. As a combined result, he underwent a quadruple bypass.
In an effort to not only lower his cholesterol, but to also reduce his risk of a future cardiac event, I started him on a personalized Lifestyle Program from Boston Heart Diagnostics.5 This Lifestyle Program incorporates both sets of guidelines listed above, and also layers in additional evidence-based recommendations. Specifically for Don, we discussed implementing lower-saturated fat foods into his daily diet, as well as continuing on his regular exercise program. The Lifestyle Program aims to develop plans that limit sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, red meats, and trans-fats, and emphasize vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, beans, non-tropical oils, nuts and seeds - all achieved through various dietary strategies, tailored to each patient's biological needs, culture, and individual food preferences.
Don's nutrition and lifestyle plan was uniquely tailored to his diagnostic blood test results and preferences - meaning his plan is unlike anyone else's in the program. By employing a sophisticated algorithm incorporating more than 100 of his individual attributes - including biomarker test results, food and fitness preferences, his demographics and personal history - his plan included customized weight and fitness goals, and specific recommendations to improve his test results and reduce his heart disease.
This lifestyle program was the first time that Don ever received such personalized care related to his diet. After a couple of one-on-one meetings with his Registered Dietician Coach, included as part of the program, he learned that he needed to cut back on red meat and increase his intake of vegetables and superfoods, such as whole grains, salmon and leafy greens. He also learned how to increase his physical activity in a way that was attainable for him. For the first time, he understood how cholesterol works and why it's different for each individual. That knowledge helped him understand the importance of his personalized diet and lifestyle program, which encouraged him to adhere to it for the long term.
A year after his cholesterol levels were first assessed, Don dropped a dramatic 100 points - from 280 to 180 -through lifestyle and dietary changes, and without the help of statins.
A scientifically designed nutrition and lifestyle program can be a hugely important tool in helping patients like Don achieve their weight management goals and improve their overall heart health. Personalization is one of the biggest trends in healthcare today - so it only makes sense that a patient's diet and exercise plan should be personalized too.
Rhonda J. Marsh is a nurse practitioner practicing in Indianapolis.
1. CDC, NCHS. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2013 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2015. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2013, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed Feb. 3, 2015.
2. Stone, NJ, et al. 2013 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Treatment of Blood Cholesterol to Reduce Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Risk in Adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013 accepted manuscript.
3. Eckel, RH, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;63:2960-84.
4. The 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/. Accessed January 4, 2017.
5. Boston Heart Diagnostics. http://www.bostonheartdiagnostics.com/. Accessed January 4, 2017.