By Megan Rauscher,New York. Researchers from Finland and the United States report evidence that diets high in cereal fibre and whole-grain products may slow the progression of atherosclerosis, plaque build-up in the arteries, of postmenopausal women.

 Several studies have linked increased dietary fiber, especially cereal fibre, with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and death, but most of them have been conducted in patients without coronary artery disease and have not directly assessed the effect of fibre intake on the progression of plaque build-up in the arteries of patients with established heart disease.

Dr Alice H Lichtenstein from Tufts University in Boston and colleagues looked at the effects of whole grain consumption in 229 postmenopausal women with coronary blockages of at least 30 percent who were participating in the Estrogen Replacement and Atherosclerosis Trial. As part of study, a diet questionnaire was used to estimate fibre intake.

Women consuming more than three grams of cereal fibre or more than six servings of whole grains per week over a three-year period showed modestly smaller declines in coronary artery blockage compared with women with lower intakes of fibre per week, the group reports in the American Heart Journal.

However, the differences in disease progression were almost that same as that seen in patients treated with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, the investigators point out.

Lichtenstein told Reuters Health: "There are now good data that women with heart disease who reported consuming products made with whole grains have slower rates of progression of their disease. This conclusion is based on direct measures of (plaque) progression over a three-year period."

"It is likely," Lichtenstein added, "the benefits of diets rich in whole grains are applicable to a more general population."

Source: American Heart Journal, July 2005.