The Mediterranean diet cuts women’s odds of heart disease and premature death by nearly 25%

By Alan Mozes HealthDay Reporter

(Health day)

WEDNESDAY, March 15, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Avoiding red meat, dairy and processed foods in favor of vegetables, fruit, nuts, extra virgin olive oil and whole grains will benefit to the heart of a woman, shows a new review.

How much good? Australian researchers concluded that women who more closely followed the Mediterranean diet, which also includes legumes, fish and shellfish, and moderate amounts of wine, appeared to reduce their long-term risk of heart disease and premature death by nearly 25 percent, compared to compared to women who did not

Although she was not involved in the analysis, Connie Diekman, a food and nutrition consultant and former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said the finding was “not surprising.”

For one thing, Diekman noted that “studies continue to show the benefit of a plant-based eating plan in reducing inflammation, a likely contributor to disease development. In addition, limited intake of saturated fats (found predominantly in animal foods) and consumption of unsaturated fats (found in higher amounts in plants) appear to be related to blood levels of LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) and HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol).”

Diekman added that previous research has also shown that using olive oil and nuts that are high in unsaturated fat, both key foods in the Mediterranean diet, can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow is director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center, co-director of the UCLA Preventive Cardiology Program, and acting chief of the division of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Although he was also not involved in the review, Fonarow said that “the magnitude of the [25%] the benefit was similar to what has been previously reported for the general population.”

Fonarow also pointed to several other reasons such a diet might protect the heart, including its ability to improve insulin sensitivity; its antioxidant properties; and its “favorable impact on the microbiome [gut] this can translate into a lower risk of cardiovascular events.”

The research team was led by Anushriya Pant, a PhD candidate at the Westmead Center for Applied Research at the University of Sydney in Australia.

Pant’s team pointed out that heart disease is the leading cause of about 35 percent of all deaths in women worldwide.

In the review, the researchers looked at a total of 16 studies, all of which were completed between 2003 and 2021.

Thirteen of the studies had been conducted in Europe or the United States. Collectively, they weighed the potential heart health benefit of the Mediterranean diet among more than 722,000 adult women.

None of the women had signs of heart disease when the studies began. The onset of heart disease was followed for an average of nearly 13 years, during which time the participants also reported their dietary habits.

After reviewing all the studies, Pant’s team noted that they could not establish a statistically significant benefit in terms of the diet’s ability to reduce stroke risk, perhaps because many of the studies failed to explore this potential link.

However, the team found that those women who followed a Mediterranean diet more closely appeared to have a 24% lower risk of heart disease and a 23% lower risk of dying from any disease, compared to women whose eating habits were less in alignment.

The findings were published online March 14 in the journal Heart.

Diekman added that the uniqueness of the finding “is that the authors chose to focus on women,” given that more often the focus has been on men.

Still, Diekman cautioned that all of the studies under review were “observational,” meaning they relied on the participants to report what they ate, without asking any of them to change their eating habits in any way.

That means “the included studies were not designed to demonstrate cause and effect” and do not prove that following a Mediterranean diet will limit heart risk over time, he explained.

Still, Fonarow noted that the findings have already “contributed to nutritional and dietary guidelines for recommending the Mediterranean diet” for both men and women.

SOURCES: Gregg Fonarow, MD, director, Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center, co-director, UCLA Preventive Cardiology Program and co-director, UCLA division of cardiology, Los Angeles; Connie Diekman, RD, food and nutrition consultant and past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; Heart, March 14, 2023, online

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