Adherence to Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Heart Disease and Early Mortality in Women by Almost 25%

Key Takeaways:

  • Strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet, a plant-heavy dietary regimen, may lead to a nearly 25% reduction in long-term risks of heart disease and early death in women.
  • The potential benefits of the Mediterranean diet could be attributed to its capacity to enhance insulin sensitivity, its antioxidant properties, and its positive influence on gut microbiota.
  • Key components of the Mediterranean diet such as olive oil and nuts, which are rich in unsaturated fats, also play a significant role in reducing heart disease risk.
  • Despite being an “observational” study, the insights gained from the research on Mediterranean diet have prompted dietary guidelines to advocate for it for both men and women.
  • Though the study found evidence of the Diet’s potential to lower stroke rates, a statistically significant connection couldn’t be established, signaling a need for further exploration.

A recent review has revealed the potential benefits of the Mediterranean diet in maintaining a woman’s heart health. The study showed that a dietary regimen that prefers plant-based food items such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and extra virgin olive oil, while avoiding red meat, dairy, and processed foods may offer significant advantages for a woman’s heart.

Link between Mediterranean Diet and Long-term Health Outcomes

Researchers from Australia discovered that women who adhered strictly to the Mediterranean diet exhibited a nearly 25% reduction in their long-term risks of heart disease and early death as opposed to those who did not. The diet, which also incorporates legumes, fish, shellfish, and moderate wine consumption, was found to have potential benefits in woman’s health.

Connie Diekman, a food and nutrition consultant and prior president of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, although not a part of this research, expressed that these findings were not unusual. She mentioned a continued stream of studies showing that a plant-based diet can reduce inflammation — a factor potentially leading to illness. Additionally, limited saturated fat consumption (high in animal foods) and increased unsaturated fat intake (found in plant-based foods) may correlate with levels of LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol.

Olive Oil, Nuts, and Heart Health

Diekman also pointed out past findings that demonstrate the potential benefits of olive oil and nuts rich in unsaturated fats, both essential components of the Mediterranean diet, in reducing heart disease risk.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center, co-director of the UCLA Preventative Cardiology Program, and temporary chief of the University of California, Los Angeles’ Cardiology division, also contributed his expertise. Fonarow commented on the consistency of these findings with previous reports regarding the generalized population, despite not being involved with the review itself. Notably, the Mediterranean diet’s potential to protect the heart might be attributed to its capacity to enhance insulin sensitivity, its antioxidant properties, and its positive influence on gut microbiota, potentially reducing cardiovascular event risk.

About the Research

The research pilot was Anushriya Pant, a doctoral candidate at the Westmead Applied Research Centre at the University of Sydney, Australia. The team clarified that heart disease is the root cause for roughly 35% of all deaths among women worldwide. In their review, they analyzed 16 surveys conducted between 2003 and 2021, involving more than 722,000 adult women from Europe and the United States.

Observations and Findings

Despite Diet’s potential to reduce stroke rates, Pant’s team could not establish a statistically significant connection perhaps due to the under-exploration of this potential link in many studies. However, their analysis found that women who closely abided by the Mediterranean diet had a 24% lower risk of heart disease and a 23% lower risk of dying from any disease compared with women not adhering as closely.

Implications and Guidelines

According to Diekman, the research team’s decision to focus specifically on women was unique since most studies tend to place the spotlight on men. Though she also cautioned that the studies reviewed were merely “observational”, and hence, do not definitively prove that following a Mediterranean diet will limit cardiovascular risk over time.

Despite this, Fonarow noted that these insights have already prompted dietary guidelines to advocate for the Mediterranean diet for both men and women.

Further Reading

For more information on plant-based diets and heart health, you may refer to the resources provided by the American Heart Association.

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