High protein diet slightly increases heart failure risk in middle-aged men

For middle-aged men, eating higher amounts of protein was associated with a slightly elevated risk for heart failure than those who ate less protein, according to new research from the University of Eastern Finland. Proteins from fish and eggs were not associated with heart failure risk in this study. The findings were reported in Circulation: Heart Failure.

Despite the popularity of high protein diets, there is little research about how diets high in protein might impact men’s heart failure risk.

“As many people seem to take the health benefits of high-protein diets for granted, it is important to make clear the possible risks and benefits of these diets,” said Jyrki Virtanen, PhD, study author and an adjunct professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio. “Earlier studies have linked diets high in protein – especially from animal sources -- with increased risks of type 2 diabetes and even death.”

Researchers studied 2,441 men, age 42 to 60, at the study’s start and followed them for an average 22 years. Overall, researchers found 334 cases of heart failure were diagnosed during the study and 70 percent of the protein consumed was from animal sources and 27.7 percent from plant sources. Higher intake of protein from most dietary sources, was associated with slightly higher risk. Only proteins from fish and eggs were not associated with heart failure risk in this study, researchers said.

For this study, researchers divided the men into four groups based on their daily protein consumption. When they compared men who ate the most protein to those who ate the least, they found their risk of heart failure was:

  • 33 percent higher for all sources of protein;
  • 43 percent higher for animal protein;
  • 49 percent higher for dairy protein;
  • 17 percent higher for plant protein.

“As this is one of the first studies reporting on the association between dietary protein and heart failure risk, more research is needed before we know whether moderating protein intake may be beneficial in the prevention of heart failure,” said Heli E.K. Virtanen, MSc, first author of study, PhD student and early career researcher at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio. “Long-term interventions comparing diets with differential protein compositions and emphasizing differential protein sources would be important to reveal possible effects of protein intake on risk factors of heart failure. More research is also needed in other study populations.”

The Finnish Cultural Foundation North Savo Regional fund, Päivikki and Sakari Sohlberg Foundation, Paavo Nurmi Foundation and The Finnish Association of Academic Agronomists funded the study.

For further information, please contact: 

Heli Virtanen, MHSc, early stage researcher, University of Eastern Finland, Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, tel. +358 400 419477, heli.e.virtanen@uef.fi

Jyrki Virtanen, PhD, adjunct professor, University of Eastern Finland, Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, tel. +358 294454542, jyrki.virtanen@uef.fi

Intake of different dietary proteins and risk of heart failure in men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study Heli E.K. Virtanen, Sari Voutilainen, Timo T. Koskinen, Jaakko Mursu, Tomi-Pekka Tuomainen, and Jyrki K. Virtanen. Circulation Heart Failure. Published online on 29 May 2018. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.117.004531

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The University of Eastern Finland, UEF, is one of the largest universities in Finland. The activities of the UEF underscore multidisciplinarity, and the university is especially strong in research related to forests and the environment, health and well-being, and new technologies and materials. The UEF offers teaching in more than 100 major subjects. In addition to the high standard of teaching, the university offers its students a modern study environment, which is under constant development. The university comprises four faculties: the Philosophical Faculty, the Faculty of Science and Forestry, the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The university’s campuses are located in the heart of beautiful eastern Finland in Joensuu, Kuopio and Savonlinna. The UEF is home to approximately 15 000 students and nearly 2 800 members of staff.

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