• Sudden cardiac death is said to be a common cause of death
  • It is caused by loss of heart function within an hour of the symptoms' onset
  • It is responsible for half of all heart disease deaths

Those who regularly adhere to a Southern-style diet are more at risk for sudden cardiac death (SCD), a team of researchers has found. But following a Mediterranean diet may lessen one's risk.

SCD is a death that is due to loss of heart function within an hour of the symptoms' onset, the researchers of a new study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA), noted. It is said to be a common cause of death. In 2016, for instance, it accounted for 1 in 7.5 deaths in the U.S., resulting in about 367,000 deaths.

It is responsible for half of all heart disease deaths, and it's said to occur most commonly in adults in their mid-30s to mid-40s.

Stroke Belt states

For their new study, a team of researchers investigated the association between the Mediterranean diet score and other dietary patterns with the risk for SCD.

To do this, they looked at data from over 21,000 people aged 45 and above who were enrolled in the REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) project, which is looking at the racial and geographic differences in stroke victims, the AHA said in a news release.

Among the participants, who were recruited from 2003 to 2007, 56% were from the southeastern U.S., which is said to be the "Stroke Belt" for having higher rates of stroke deaths. These states include North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.

The researchers calculated a Mediterranean diet score and determined the participants' diet using a food frequency questionnaire at the beginning of the study, the AHA noted. The participants were then asked to point out how often and how much they ate 110 different food items in the previous year. Through this, the researchers were able to determine certain dietary patterns.

One of them is the "sweets" pattern, which is characterized by foods high in added sugars. There's also the "convenience" pattern, which primarily features easy-to-make foods such as pasta or take-out foods, and the "plant-based" diet, which is high in foods like fruits, vegetables and beans. Meanwhile, the "alcohol and salad" diet focuses on liquor, leafy greens and tomatoes with salad dressing. They also identified the "Southern diet," wherein the focus is on added fats, organ meats, processed meats, sugary drinks and fried foods.

"All participants had some level of adherence to each pattern, but usually adhered more to some patterns and less to others," study lead, James M. Shikany, Dr.P.H., F.A.H.A. of the Division of Preventive Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in the news release. "For example, it would not be unusual for an individual who adheres highly to the Southern pattern to also adhere to the plant-based pattern, but to a much lower degree."

Higher sudden cardiac death risks

After 10 years of follow-up, researchers found that there were 400 SCD cases among the participants. Those who regularly ate a Southern diet had a 46% higher chance of SCD than those who did not adhere to it. On the other hand, those who followed a Mediterranean diet had a 26% lower chance of SCD than those who did not follow it.

"Although observational in nature, these data suggest that diet may be a modifiable risk factor for sudden cardiac death and should be discussed with patients," the researchers wrote.

Simply put, the researchers' findings show the potential impact of people's diet in preventing or increasing their risk for SCD.

"Improving one's diet – by eating a diet abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish such as the Mediterranean diet and low in fried foods, organ meats and processed meats, characteristics of the Southern-style dietary pattern, may decrease one's risk for sudden cardiac death," Shikany said.

Studies such as this one show the potential impact of the things we eat on our health. Only recently, another team of researchers associated a high-fat Western Diet with chronic pain in people with certain conditions.

Representation. Fried chicken. Pixabay