Cardiovascular disease is a favourite topic of mine so when it comes to dietary interventions to prevent and reverse heart disease, the Mediterranean diet (MD) is right up there, alongside a whole-food plant based diet low in sugars as the best dietary choices available.
Here’s my take on this dietary approach.
The MD has been extensively studied, going back as far as the 1990s with the Lyon Diet Heart Study. A PubMed search for the term “Mediterranean diet” yields over 5,000 results. When you include “cardiovascular disease”, the search returns over 1,600 results. There is a lot of information on this out there so it can be hard to distill the reliable, trustworthy sources from the rest of the noise in the world of nutritional science.
Inflammation plays a key role in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis (14) with elevated levels of systemic inflammatory markers like hs-CRP being associated with a threefold higher risk of myocardial infarction (15).
- The PREDIMED (1) study carried out in Spain found a lower incidence of major cardiovascular events (stroke, heart attack, death) in the intervention groups eating a MD augmented with either nuts or extra virgin olive oil.
- Another study (4) found that participants in the MD group had significantly reduced serum concentrations of IL-6, IL-7, IL-18, and hs-CRP in a 2004 study of 180 participants over 2 years. They also had significant decreases in body weight, BMI, waist circumference, blood pressure, glucose, insulin, total cholesterol, triglycerides and a significant increase in HDL cholesterol.
- An Australian study (3) found significant improvements in endothelial function and systolic blood pressure.
But how does a MD, which is a plant dominant diet built around fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, olive oil, seafood, legumes with meat and dairy used sparingly, help to improve cardiovascular health?
Researchers speculate that the higher dietary fibre intake of the MD may play anti-inflammatory roles, at least in the intestinal functions, which combines with the antioxidant components of the fruits, vegetables, nuts and other polyphenols to reduce the oxidative stress that occurs after macronutrient ingestion. The anti-inflammatory effect of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish may also help in this regard.
Also the avoidance of refined sugars, grains and saturated fats and oils in the diet would cause less inflammation and irritation within the body.
In conclusion, it’s not one single component, but the sum of its parts that seems to generate the beneficial effects on cardiovascular health.
In my opinion, it is a sensible option for those already suffering with cardiovascular related issues and for those who wish to avoid them.
Yours in health and happiness,