For men in particular, diets that promote higher protein intakes could potentially increase risk of heart failure.
Credit: Lisovskaya

The American Heart Association estimates one in five Americans over the age of 40 will develop heart failure, an affliction where the body is unable to pump blood and oxygen properly. But symptoms and individual risk have been shown to improve based on positive changes in diet and lifestyle. (At risk for heart disease? Here are 22 heart-healthy foods to fuel your cardiac diet.)

Little research had been done on diets high in protein and the subsequent impact on risk of heart failure in men—until now. A new study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation: Heart Failure found a slighter higher risk of heart failure in middle aged men who consumed high amounts of protein.

"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," Jyrki Virtanen, study author and adjunct professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of Eastern Finland, said in an official press release. "Earlier studies had linked diets high in protein—especially from animal sources—with increased risks of Type 2 diabetes, and even death.”

This comprehensive study followed 2,441 men aged between 24 and 60 years old for an average of 22 years. The men’s diets included protein from 70 percent animal sources and nearly 28 percent from plant sources. At the end of the study, researchers recorded 334 cases of heart failure overall.

Risk of heart failure for participants was highest from protein found within dairy at 49 percent, followed by 43 percent of a higher risk stemming from animal-based protein intake. Consuming plant proteins had the lowest risk for heart failure at 17 percent. Overall, there was a 33 percent higher risk from consuming all sources of protein. There were no signs of increased risk of heart-related health issues associated with consuming fish or eggs.

Heli E.K. Virtanen, the lead author of the study and a Ph.D. student at the University of Eastern Finland, said in the press release, "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 American Heart Association recommends a diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish beans, vegetable oils, and nuts. In addition to these recommendations, they suggest limiting sweets, sugary beverages, and red meats—a stance that is now being backed up by this latest piece of research.