A "Mediterranean diet" rich in olive oil and lean on meat reduced signs of inflammation that raise the risk of heart disease, say researchers from the University of Athens in Greece.
The finding was among the newest evidence, presented at an annual meeting of the American Heart Association, that diets low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables may prevent heart disease - the leading killer of Americans.
A Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil, and very little meat, and has been linked to lower heart disease rates. In the new study, researchers tracked the eating habits of about 3,000 men and women in Greece, aged 18 to 89, who did not have cardiovascular disease.
The closer people adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the lower their levels of various measures of inflammation, which recent research shows plays a major role in development of heart disease. Some have speculated that other factors, such as exercise and stress levels of Mediterranean countries, may account for the heart benefits.
These findings held true even when differences in body mass index, physical activity, age, sex and education level were accounted for. The researchers believe that the benefits "were from the diet as a whole, not specific items consumed."
A separate study, at Tufts University in Boston, helped explain why eating fish is good for the heart. It showed eating at least two servings of fish each week was linked to slower worsening of heart lesions.
The findings were particularly true for tuna and dark meat fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel and for diabetic women. Researchers are unsure why white fish did not seem as beneficial.
Other researchers at Oregon Health & Science University set out to discover how fish oil supplements prevent sudden cardiac death. One theory is that they reduce the occurrence of dangerous irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias. Looking at 200 patients who had implanted defibrillators that recorded arrhythmias, the researchers found the fish oil supplements did not decrease the frequency any more than placebo capsules.
Still, strong evidence remains that fish oil and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as flaxseed oil, reduce death from cardiovascular disease, and people should not abandon them.
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