Posted on Apr 28, 2019, 3 p.m.
Mediterranean diets are considered to be one of the healthiest beneficial diets to promote weight loss that is low in red meat and free of added sugars and processed foods; according to a study published in JAMA Network open it can also boost heart health among women.
In the past multiple studies have confirmed a connection between a Mediterranean diet and a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, but the underlying mechanisms remained unclear. Researchers studied a panel of 40 biomarkers which represented new and established biological contributors to heart disease in order to discover how and why a Mediterranean diet may lower the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Data was analyzed from American women following a Mediterranean type diet, findings revealed women who consumed a diet full of plants and olive oil instead of sweets and meats had a 25% decrease in their risk of cardiovascular disease.
The study has a strong public health message, and the discovery is crucial for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease: “...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,” writes Shafqat Ahmad PhD, of Brigham and at the Harvard Chan School.
Data from over 25,000 female health professionals who took part in the Women’s Health Study was referenced in this study, participants submitted food intake questionnaires and provided blood samples used to measure biomarkers linked to heart disease, and the participants were monitored for 12 years; primary outcomes examined included incidents of cardiovascular disease which were defined as first events of stroke, heart attack, coronary arterial revascularization, and cardiovascular death.
Participants were divided into 3 groups: low, middle, or upper Mediterranean diet intake. 356 women in the middle group and 246 in the upper group were found to have experienced a cardiovascular event compared to 428 women in the low group: findings revealed a relative risk reduction of 23% for the middle group and 28% for the upper groups; benefit is similar in magnitude to statins or other preventive medications.
Other beneficial changes were also observed including reduction in signals of inflammation which accounted for 29% of the decreased risk for cardiovascular disease; reduction in glucose insulin resistance and improved glucose metabolism which accounted for 27.9% of the decreased risk for cardiovascular disease; and reduced body max index which accounted for 27.3% of the decreases risk for cardiovascular disease. Risk reduction was also linked to blood pressure, branch chain amino acids, different forms of cholesterol, and other biomarkers; however they accounted for less of the association between cardiovascular risk reduction and the Mediterranean diet.
"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. 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," writes Samia Mora, MD, MHS of the Brigham and Harvard Medical School.
Those that follow this type of diet avoid processed, packaged, and store bought foods that are packed full of additives. While meat is allowed in this diet red meat needs to be limited to less than 6 ounces of per week, grass fed meats are encouraged for best results.
Foods that are encouraged and frequently consumed in this beneficial diet included almonds, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, hummus, lemon, olives, quinoa, wild salmon, ezekiel bread, chia seeds, eggs, skyr, chicken, and plenty of organic produce.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.