One of the largest studies on the reduction of chronic disease risk and mortality was recently published in The Lancet. The study looked at the use of a particular treatment and the reduction of cardiovascular disease risk, stroke risk, as well as the risks of cardiovascular, non-cardiovascular and overall mortality. The study was very comprehensive involving 135,335 individuals aged 35 to 70 years without cardiovascular disease from 613 communities in 18 low-income, middle-income, and high-income countries in seven geographical regions: North America and Europe, South America, The Middle East, South Asia, China, Southeast Asia, and Africa.
The results shown to the left were fairly striking with the treatment reducing the risks uniformly for all of the followed measures. The vertical black line is the risk in the non-treatment group. That is arbitrarily called “1” in a comparative study.
The graphic shows the risk reductions circled in red compared to those not taking the treatment regularly. The red line shows the risk reduction to 0.7 which means a 30% reduction. For cardiovascular events (CV disease) the reductions were all about 20%. The mortality reductions were more dramatic, all being more than 30%.
The conclusion is that this treatment resulted in broad reductions in disease rates and deaths for the leading cause in developed and less developed countries. The results occurred regardless of age, income status or country of residence.
Participation in this treatment would not take much persuasion if this drug existed, was widely available and relatively inexpensive. While it meets all of those criteria, it has been and continues to be a hard sell to the population at large. This is because the “drug” used in the study was actually “more than 3 servings per day of fruits, vegetables and legumes”.
To give some perspective on these results, the results of similar clinical trials using statin drugs on total cardiovascular mortality have found risk reductions varying between 0 and 12%. Seems like one could do twice as much just by eating enough fruits and vegetables daily.
The irony of all of this is that virtually every guideline out there supports this “therapy”, yet the minority of the population follow this in practice. The breakdown seems to occur for many reasons. Medical practice has become largely “this drug for that problem” with insufficient time spent or emphasis on implementing this very effective prevention. This is driven by time restraints in patient care, patients preferring a pill over lifestyle change, and intense pharmaceutical advertising biasing opinions.
The bottom line is that you can’t fight data and in this case, it is convincing. We are in the era of chronic lifestyle related disease and the biggest piece of lifestyle appears to be diet.