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Mediterranean diets: the heart health benefits that might encourage you to make the switch

Written by Abigail Sawyer (Senior Editor)

Can Mediterranean diets reduce risk of heart disease? American women who consume Mediterranean diets have a 25% reduced risk of heart disease.

Does Mediterranean diets reduce the risk of heart disease?

A team of researchers from different institutions across Boston (MA, USA), including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has offered some insights into the benefits of a Mediterranean diet. Results from their study demonstrate that women who consume a diet rich in olive oil and plants and low in meat and sweets have a 25% reduced risk of heart disease. They also examined 40 biomarkers, providing some new insight as to how this diet might mitigate heart disease.

“Our study has a strong public health message that modest changes in known cardiovascular disease risk factors, particularly those relating to inflammation, glucose metabolism and insulin resistance, contribute to the long-term benefit of a Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular disease risk. This understanding may have important downstream consequences for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease,” commented lead author Shafqat Ahmad (Brigham and Women’s Hospital).

The study focused on over 25,000 female health professionals who participated in the Women’s Health Study. They provided blood samples, completed questionnaires regarding their diet and were followed for up to 12 years. While previous studies have linked Mediterranean diets to improved cardiovascular health, the underlying mechanisms have been unclear.

The magnitude of reduced risk of a cardiovascular event occurring is similar to that of statins or other preventative medications. Changes in signals of inflammation accounted for 29% of the disease risk reduction, glucose metabolism and insulin resistance accounted for 27.9% and BMI accounted for 27.3%. There were also connections with blood pressure, cholesterol and other biomarkers, but these accounted for less of the link between Mediterranean diet and risk reduction.

“While prior studies have shown benefit for the Mediterranean diet on reducing cardiovascular events and improving cardiovascular risk factors, it has been a black box regarding the extent to which improvements in known and novel risk factors contribute to these effects,” concluded corresponding author Samia Mora (Brigham and Women’s Hospital).

“In this large study, we found that modest differences in biomarkers contributed in a multi-factorial way to this cardiovascular benefit that was seen over the long term.”