February is Heart Research Month – raising awareness around heart health and its researchers

Professor Karen Charlton is an IHMRI Senior Fellow in UOW’s School of Medicine, with a research focus on nutrition and cognition.

She is currently investigating the effects of dietary intervention on people with cognitive impairment. 

In 2018, Professor Charlton and her team at IHMRI conducted a clinical trial exploring the benefits of plum juice to protect against age-related diseases, including damage to blood vessels and brain function.

“As a nutritionist, it’s exciting to discover the untapped healing potential of fruits and vegetables that could be used to fight common conditions like high blood pressure and memory loss,” said Prof. Charlton.

Professor Charlton has an impressive research resume. She qualified as a dietitian in 1990 before undertaking a Masters, where she researched the eating habits of males in the seventies and older, to encourage nutrition education. Professor Charlton then worked at the Gerontology Research Centre in Cape Town for nearly 10 years.

“My research has spanned many countries. I started in England and then South Africa and other low-middle income countries, and more recently Australia. Across all countries I found that heart disease risk increases with age and is associated with poor diet.” she said.

Her hard work paid off when her research kick-started law reform around food production.

“My proudest moment was when the South African government mandated salt levels in a wide range of processed foods in 2013, based on my PhD research. Another milestone was recognition as a Woman of Influence in Hypertension Research by the International Society of Hypertension (2016),” said Prof. Charlton.

For Heart Research Month, Professor Charlton is telling people to maintain a healthy diet to promote heart health.

“A heart healthy diet is one that is high in fruits (especially dark red, purple or blue ones), vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, and nuts, and includes oily fish and dairy products. It is moderate in alcohol, and low in processed and red meat, sugar-sweetened products, and refined grains. For blood pressure control, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and Mediterranean style dietary patterns are the best eating patterns,” she said.

While being overweight is a key indicator for potential heart disease, fit and healthy people are not immune.

“Heart disease also occurs in people that are active and of normal weight and some people have no symptoms.  Having regular blood pressure checks is important.”

Professor Charlton will facilitate the Food for Thought forum at Innovation Campus on March 26.

Read more about Professor Charlton’s hypertension research.

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