Background: Ingestion of animal protein raises serum cholesterol in some experimental models but not in others, and ecologic studies have suggested a positive association between animal protein intake and risk of ischemic heart disease. Prospective data on the relation of protein intake to risk of ischemic heart disease are sparse.
Objective: The objective was to examine the relation between protein intake and risk of ischemic heart disease.
Design: The study was a prospective cohort study.
Results: We examined the association between dietary protein intake and incidence of ischemic heart disease in a cohort of 80082 women aged 34-59 y and without a previous diagnosis of ischemic heart disease, stroke, cancer, hypercholesterolemia, or diabetes in 1980. Intakes of protein and other nutrients were assessed with validated dietary questionnaires. We documented 939 major instances of ischemic heart disease during 14 y of follow-up. After age, smoking, total energy intake, percentages of energy from specific types of fat, and other ischemic heart disease risk factors were controlled for, high protein intakes were associated with a low risk of ischemic heart disease; when extreme quintiles of total protein intake were compared, the relative risk was 0.74 (95% CI: 0.59, 0.94). Both animal and vegetable proteins contributed to the lower risk. This inverse association was similar in women with low- or high-fat diets.
Conclusions: Our data do not support the hypothesis that a high protein intake increases the risk of ischemic heart disease. In contrast, our findings suggest that replacing carbohydrates with protein may be associated with a lower risk of ischemic heart disease. Because a high dietary protein intake is often accompanied by increases in saturated fat and cholesterol intakes, application of these findings to public dietary advice should be cautious.