Mediterranean diet protects against peripheral artery disease, heart attack and stroke

Pyramide-alimentaire-en-françaisThe Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of death in patients with a history of cardiovascular disease, according to results from the observational Moli-sani study presented at ESC Congress 2016 today.

“The Mediterranean diet is widely recognised as one of the healthier nutrition habits in the world,” said Professor Giovanni de Gaetano, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the I.R.C.C.S. Neuromed Institute in Pozzilli, Italy. “In fact, many scientific studies have shown that a traditional Mediterranean lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of various chronic diseases and, more importantly, of death from any cause.”

“But so far research has focused on the general population, which is mainly composed of healthy people,” he added. “What happens to people who have already suffered from cardiovascular disease? Is the Mediterranean diet optimal for them too?”

The answer is yes, according to a study in patients with a history of cardiovascular disease, such as coronary artery disease and stroke. The patients were among the participants enrolled into the Moli-sani project, a prospective epidemiological study that randomly recruited around 25,000 adults living in the Italian region of Molise.

“Among the participants, we identified 1197 people who reported a history of cardiovascular disease at the time of enrolment into Moli-sani,” said Dr Marialaura Bonaccio, lead author of the research.

Food intake was recorded using the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) food frequency questionnaire. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet was appraised with a 9-point Mediterranean diet score (MDS). All-cause death was assessed by linkage with data from the office of vital statistics in Molise.

Diet halves risk

From prior studies we know that people who follow a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of heart attack and stroke risk, and that patients with a high risk of developing heart disease lowered their diabetes risk when they followed this diet. If you follow a Mediterranean diet, olive oil, nuts, fish, grains, fruits and vegetables form the core of your eating plan.

New research published today in JAMA shows that a Mediterranean diet can also cut your risk for another heart condition, peripheral arterial disease, or PAD. In PAD, plaque — cholesterol, fat, and fibrous tissue — lines the inner surface of arteries, limiting the amount of oxygen-rich blood that can get to the legs, arms, head, and internal organs. PAD gets more common as we age, affecting 10 percent of the population who are over 70, and 20 percent or more of those over 80 years old. People with PAD often have the classic symptom of leg pain, and they are at increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

This new study of 7,477 men and women is the first randomized clinical trial to test whether diet would have an effect on PAD risk.

It makes sense the the diet would help, according to Kevin Campbell MD, a cardiologist at North Carolina Heart and Vascular and assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who was not involved with the new research. “We know that the risk factors for the development of heart disease and PAD are similar — diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and high blood pressure,” he said, adding that he often counsels at-risk patients to switch to a Mediterranean diet. Dr. Campbell was not involved with the trial.

It’s easy to switch

The Mediterranean diet has actually previously been connected to a variety of health benefits consisting of a reduced danger of type 2 diabetes and cognitive decrease, and overall better health and a longer life-span.

Dr. Martinez-Gonzalez recommended that people wishing to switch to a Mediterranean diet plan start with small, attainable changes, such as drinking a glass of red wine each night, increasing their intake of veggies prepared with olive oil, substituting fish or poultry for red meat or substituting fruits for sweets as desserts.

Nutrition researcher Teresa Fung of Simmons College, who was not involved in the research study, had another tip: snacking on a handful of nuts, rather than on cookies or chips.

“All of these actions are making, at the end of the day, a huge difference,” Martinez-Gonzalez stated.