Mediterranean Diet Cuts Heart Disease Risk by Nearly Half

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Adults who closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 47 percent less likely to develop heart disease over a 10-year period compared to similar adults who did not closely follow the diet, according to a new study.

Mediterranean Diet Cuts Heart Disease Risk by Nearly Half

Among the study's participants, adherence to the Mediterranean diet was more protective than physical activity. The study, conducted in Greece, bolsters evidence from earlier studies pointing to the diet's health benefits and is the first to track 10-year heart disease risk in a general population. Most previous studies have focused on middle-aged people.

"Our study shows that the Mediterranean diet is a beneficial intervention for all types of people--in both genders, in all age groups, and in both healthy people and those with health conditions," said Ekavi Georgousopoulou, who conducted the study along with Demosthenes B. Panagiotakos. "It also reveals that the Mediterranean diet has direct benefits for heart health, in addition to its indirect benefits in managing diabetes, hypertension and inflammation."

The study is based on data from a representative sample of more than 2,500 Greek adults, ages 18 to 89, who provided researchers with their health information each year from 2001 to 2012. Participants also completed in-depth surveys about their medical records, lifestyle and dietary habits at the start of the study, after five years and after 10 years.

Overall, nearly 20 percent of the men and 12 percent of the women who participated in the study developed or died from heart disease, a suite of conditions that includes stroke, coronary heart disease caused by the buildup of plaque in the heart's arteries, acute coronary syndromes such as heart attack, and other diseases. Other studies have shown Greeks and Americans have similar rates of heart disease and its risk factors.

The researchers scored participants' diets on a scale from 1 to 55 based on their self-reported frequency and level of intake for 11 food groups. Those who scored in the top-third in terms of adherence to the Mediterranean diet, indicating they closely followed the diet, were 47 percent less likely to develop heart disease over the 10-year follow-up period as compared to participants who scored in the bottom-third, indicating they did not closely follow the diet. Each one-point increase in the dietary score was associated with a 3 percent drop in heart disease risk.

This difference was independent of other heart disease risk factors including age, gender, family history, education level, body mass index, smoking habits, hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, all of which the researchers adjusted for in their analysis.

The analysis also confirmed results of previous studies indicating that male gender, older age, diabetes and high C-reactive protein levels, a measure of inflammation, are associated with an increased risk for heart disease.

While there is no set Mediterranean diet, it commonly emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil and even a glass of red wine. Earlier research has shown that following the traditional Mediterranean diet is linked to weight loss, reduced risk of diabetes, lower blood pressure and lower blood cholesterol levels, in addition to reduced risk of heart disease.

"Because the Mediterranean diet is based on food groups that are quite common or easy to find, people around the world could easily adopt this dietary pattern and help protect themselves against heart disease with very little cost," Georgousopoulou said.

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