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High-protein diet may decrease AF risk in postmenopausal women

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01 Apr 2020

Higher dietary protein intake was associated with a lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation (AF) in postmenopausal women compared with lower protein intake, according to a secondary analysis presented at the ACC.20/WCC Virtual Meeting.

“Women with the lowest protein intake — which was roughly equivalent to the current recommended daily amount of protein [0.80 g/kg/day] in the US — had the highest incidence of AF, and eating a little more was protective, even after taking into account other factors that can predispose someone to develop AF,” said lead author Dr Daniel Gerber from the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Stanford University Medical Center in Stanford, California, US.

Using data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Randomized Controlled Trials and Observational Study, the researchers analysed 99,554 postmenopausal women (median age 64 years) with a median protein intake of 0.92 g/kg/day and without a history of AF at baseline. Women were categorized according to protein intake quartiles: quartile 1 (lowest, <0.80 g/kg/day), quartile 2 (0.80–0.92 g/kg/day), quartile 3 (0.92–1.05 g/kg/day), and quartile 4 (highest, >1.05 g/kg/day). WHI food questionnaires were used to assess the consumption of dietary protein. All physical activities were self-reported. [ACC.20/WCC, abstract 1061-03]

At 10.1 years of follow-up, 21.3 percent of the women developed incident AF.

Women who consumed more protein had a significantly lower risk of AF (hazard ratio, 0.89, 0.80, and 0.71 for quartiles 2, 3, and 4, respectively; p<0.001 for all) than those who consumed less protein in quartile 1.

Gerber highlighted that increasing dietary protein intake does not require a substantial amount. “We’re talking about eating 10–20 more grams of protein per day — that’s only 4 ounces of healthy protein such as chicken breast or salmon, a cup of Greek yoghurt, or two eggs.”

Moreover, Gerber emphasized the importance of adding healthy protein options, stating, “it needs to be with heart-healthy foods and lean proteins, not with cheeseburgers and other foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sugar.”

Researchers found no significant effect between physical activity level and protein intake with incident AF (p=0.319).

Overall, the findings support the potential of higher protein intake to mitigate the development of AF among postmenopausal women, regardless of physical activity. “Eating an extra few grams of protein a day could [also] potentially have a huge impact across the [ageing] population [with AF in US],” Gerber added.

“Further investigation is needed to identify the factors driving this relationship and prospective studies are necessary to evaluate for a causal relationship between dietary protein intake and AF incidence,” they suggested.
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