Is a Different Diet the Heart of the Matter?

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A new study of middle-aged men has found that hypertension is strongly linked to heart failure. No news there — but the study should raise some red flags in places such as New York and Paris, where the rate of heart failure among men is significantly higher than it is for those in other parts of the world who have similar blood pressures. An American man with hypertension, for example, is four times more likely to sustain a fatal heart attack than a hypertense Japanese male.

But does the fact that they're less prone to heart failure mean that Japanese and Mediterraneans have stronger tickers than Northern Europeans and Americans? Not exactly. The Dutch researchers who conducted the study believe it's more a function of cultural factors such as diet: Mediterraneans and Japanese tend to favor low-cholesterol diets, low on meats and fried foods and heavy on fish and olive oil. The authors of the study suggest that in high-risk regions the standard blood pressure test included in most checkups be replaced by a "global score" that includes such factors as cholesterol level and the incidence of smoking or diabetes. And a little seaweed on pita once in a while wouldn't hurt either.