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Study Uncovers How Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Heart Disease

The Mediterranean diet — which is characterized by high amounts of vegetables, legumes, cereals, fish, fruits and nuts, healthy mono-saturated fats such as olive oil, low amounts of saturated fats, moderate alcohol intake, and low intake of meat and dairy products — has been shown in numerous studies to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. A recent study suggests that this may be due to its effect on a number of biomarkers.


Participants in the study included more than 25,000 female health professionals who took part in the Women’s Health Study. All of the participants completed food intake questionnaires and the researchers took blood samples to measure cardiovascular health biomarkers. The women were followed for up to 12 years. The study examined incidents of cardiovascular disease, defined as first events of heart attack, stroke, coronary arterial revascularization, and cardiovascular death.


Based on the questionnaires, the researchers placed the participants into three groups: low, middle, or upper Mediterranean diet intake. They found that 428 of the women (4.2%) in the low group experienced a cardiovascular event compared to 356 (3.8%) in the middle group and 246 (3.8%) in the upper group. That means there was a relative risk reduction of 23% and 28% respectively. That risk reduction is similar to statins and other preventive medications.


Additionally, the researchers noted changes in signals of inflammation (accounting for 29% of the cardiovascular disease reduction), glucose metabolism and insulin resistance (27.9%) and body mass index (27.3%).


Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health  conducted the study. It was published on December 7, 2018, in JAMA Network Open.

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