Exploring the High Cardiovascular Disease Rates Among South Asians: Insights from The MASALA Study

Key Takeaways:

  • South Asians are more susceptible to heart disease and the MASALA study aims to provide crucial insights about this. Initiated in 2010, it is the first large-scale investigation into the cardiovascular health of South Asians in the United States.
  • The MASALA study revealed that South Asians have a high prevalence of conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. They also store fat differently, particularly in the liver and abdominal organs, which potentially contributes to their higher rates of cardiovascular disease.
  • The study’s findings highlight the need for healthcare professionals to adapt and improve existing healthcare resources to better cater to the unique needs of the South Asian community. Traditional heart disease prevention guidelines may not be enough for this group.
  • Insights also emphasize the value of understanding dietary habits, as South Asian diets vary greatly—from vegetarian diets high in dairy to Western diets with meat and alcohol. This aspect requires further investigation.
  • The MASALA study aims to grow its participant count to around 2300 by 2023 by implementing strategies to reach a diverse mix of individuals, including non-English speakers and individuals from lower income and education backgrounds.

South Asians are highly vulnerable to heart disease which is also genetically common among them, manifesting itself in a long list of affected family members. The richly networked community often includes many who face this frightening reality. In an effort to unravel this mystery and create healthier hearts in South Asian Americans, a long-term research study was initiated.

Building the MASALA Study

Called MASALA (Mediators of Atherosclerosis in South Asians Living in America), this study was initiated in 2010 and forms the first large-scale, ongoing investigation into the cardiovascular health of South Asians in the United States. The MASALA study aims to delve into the details of heart health within this rapidly growing community.

The investigation is currently gathering its third wave of health information from the original study participants while simultaneously expanding to include a wider snapshot of the community. Its findings continue to shape our understanding of South Asian heart health and contribute to important scientific literature.

The Increased Risk for South Asians

South Asians—individuals whose roots can be traced back to nations like Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka—make up one of the fastest-growing ethnic subgroups in the United States. With over 5 million residing in the U.S, these individuals face an elevated risk for heart disease, clinically shown to manifest itself at a younger age.

One of the primary objectives of the MASALA study is not only to identify risk factors for South Asians but also to enable better care and resources towards this demographic. In many cases, existing healthcare resources and advice available are not suited or tailored to effectively assist the unique needs of this community.

Unraveling the Details

The MASALA study has shed new light on various health facets. South Asians are found to have a high prevalence of diabetes, prediabetes, and high blood pressure. Additionally, they store fat differently—most notably on liver and abdominal organs, contributing potentially to their higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They also show higher levels of lipoprotein(a), a type of cholesterol tied to a heightened risk of heart disease and stroke.

Favourably however, the study highlighted the strong social relationships within their community, a positive factor contributing to overall health.

The Importance of Inclusion and Diversity

Given the prior lack of specific research on South Asians, the insights from MASALA play a critical role in ensuring more targeted and effective treatment approaches. Tremendous focus has been given to ensure that the study includes a diverse mix of individuals from various South Asian backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses.

MASALA set out to increase the diversity of its sample in 2017 by deploying strategies like partnering with community organizations to reach non-English speakers and individuals from lower income and education backgrounds. By 2023, the study aims to grow to a total of around 2300 participants.

Understanding the Role of Dietary Habits

Findings from the MASALA study have also highlighted the need for examining the role of diet in causing these disparities. South Asian’s diets have shown three distinct dietary themes: vegetarian diets high in dairy but low on fruits and vegetables, a healthier vegetarian diet high in legumes and fruits and vegetables, and a Western diet with consumption of meat, alcohol, and coffee. Future work aims to further investigate diet culture and its effects on health.

Implications and Future Directions

The insights from the MASALA research underline the fact that conventional heart disease prevention guidelines may not be robust enough for South Asians residing in the U.S. There is a need for healthcare professionals to be more proactive and attuned to the specific requirements of South Asians.

Community members are increasingly participating in the study, recognizing how crucial it is to understand these health patterns. With its participant count steadily growing, the MASALA study promises to provide key insights that can guide the future of heart health, care and treatment for South Asians in America.


Greetings from the trails and tracks! I'm Tim, but most folks know me as TJ. I've spent the last 5 years diving deep into the world of content writing, with a particular penchant for nutrition and the intricate science behind it. Every bite we take, every nutrient we consume, tells a unique story – and I'm here to unravel it for you.Beyond my keyboard, you'll often find me on a winding hiking trail or pushing my limits on a long-distance run. These pursuits not only keep me fit but constantly remind me of the vital role nutrition plays in fueling our passions and adventures.Through my writings, I aim to bridge the gap between complex nutritional science and everyday eating habits. Whether you're looking for the latest research updates, practical diet tips, or stories from the running track, I'm committed to serving you content that's as engaging as it is enlightening.So, lace up your shoes, grab a healthy snack, and join me in this exploration of food, science, and the great outdoors. Together, we'll journey towards better health and incredible experiences!
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