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Researchers explore what lies behind the Mediterranean diet and lower cardiovascular risk

Credit: CC0 Public DomainA new study of investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan…

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A new study of investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan Folkhälsohögskolan offers insights from a cohort study of women in the United States who reported using a type of diet in the Mediterranean. Researchers found a 25 percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease among study participants who consumed a diet rich in plants and olive oil and lay in meat and sweets. The team also investigated why and how a Mediterranean diet can mitigate the risk of heart disease and stroke by investigating a panel of 40 biomarkers that represents new and established biological contributors to heart disease. The team’s performance is published in JAMA Network Open .

“Our study has a strong public health message that modest changes in known risks of cardiovascular disease, especially those related to inflammation, glucose metabolism and insulin resistance, contribute to the long-term benefit of a Mediterranean diet at risk of cardiovascular disease. major downstream consequences for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease, says lead author Shafqat Ahmad, Ph.D., a researcher at Brigham and Harvard Chan School.

Randomized trials in the Mediterranean countries and observational studies have previously linked a Mediterranean diet to decreases of cardiovascular disease, but the underlying mechanisms have been unclear. Current research is based on data from more than 25,000 female healthcare professionals who participated in women’s health sciences. The participants completed questionnaires about dietary intake of food, provided blood samples for measuring the biomarkers and followed up til l 1

2 years. The primary results analyzed in the study were incidences of cardiovascular disease, defined as first events in myocardial infarction, stroke, coronary heart disease and cardiovascular death.

The team categorized the study participants as a low, middle or upper Mediterranean diet intake. They found that 428 (4.2 percent) of women in the low group experienced a cardiovascular event compared with 356 (3.8 percent) in the middle group and 246 (3.8 percent) in the upper group, representing a relative risk reduction on 23 percent and 28 percent respectively, an advantage equal to statin or other preventive medication.

The team saw changes in signs of inflammation (accounting for 29 percent of risk reduction for cardiovascular disease), glucose metabolism and insulin resistance (27.9 percent) and body max index (27.3 percent). The team also found connections to blood pressure, different forms of cholesterol, branched-chain amino acids and other biomarkers, but found that these accounted for less of the connection between the Mediterranean diet and risk reduction.

“Although previous studies have shown benefits for the Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular disease and improvement of cardiovascular risk factors, it has become a black box about the extent to which improvements in known and new risk factors contribute to these effects,” said the author, Samia Mora, MD, MHS, a cardiovascular disease specialist at Brigham and Harvard Medical School. “In this major survey, we found that modest differences in biomarkers contributed multifactorially to this cardiovascular benefit seen in the long run.”

Explore further:
Mediterranean style diet can lower women’s stroke risk

More information:
Shafqat Ahmad et al., Assessment of risk factors and biomarkers associated with cardiovascular disease risk among women who consume a Mediterranean diet JAMA Network Open (2018). DOI: 10.1001 / jamanetworkopen.2018.5708

Journal Reference:
JAMA Network Open

Provided by:
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

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