Western Dietary Pattern Derived by Multiple Statistical Methods Is Prospectively Associated with Subclinical Carotid Atherosclerosis in Midlife Women

The menopause has adverse effects on cardiometabolic profiles that are linked to an increased risk of atherosclerosis in women. A healthy diet during the menopausal transition may counteract the menopause-induced atherosclerotic risk.

This prospective cohort study aimed to examine the associations between empirically derived dietary patterns and subclinical carotid atherosclerosis in midlife women.


A total of 1246 midlife women (average age at baseline: 46.3 y) from the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation who completed dietary assessments and had a carotid ultrasound scan were included. Dietary data were collected at 3 time points, during 1996-1997, 2001-2003, and 2005-2007. Measures of carotid atherosclerosis included common carotid artery intima-media thickness (CCA-IMT), adventitial diameter (AD), and carotid plaque index collected during 2009-2013. Three statistical methods, including principal component analysis (PCA), reduced rank regression (RRR), and partial least squares regression (PLS), were used to identify dietary patterns.

A Western dietary pattern was identified from each method and a Prudent dietary pattern from PCA. High adherence to the Western pattern was associated with higher CCA-IMT. Women in the fourth quartile of the Western pattern identified by PCA, RRR, and PLS had 0.042 mm (95% CI: 0.011, 0.073), 0.033 mm (95% CI: 0.0086, 0.057), and 0.049 mm (95% CI: 0.025, 0.074), respectively, larger CCA-IMT than women in the first quartile; these differences correspond to 30%, 24%, and 35% of the sample SD, respectively. The Prudent pattern was not significantly associated with CCA-IMT. No significant associations were found between the identified dietary patterns and AD or carotid plaque.

The positive association between the Western diet and CCA-IMT was robust under different dietary pattern derivation methods. The adoption of a diet low in red meat, processed meat, deep-fried products, and sugar-sweetened beverages among midlife women is associated with a lower future risk of atherosclerosis.