Adults who closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 47 percent less likely to develop heart disease over a 10-year period compared to similar adults who did not closely follow the diet, according to a study to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 64th Annual Scientific Session in San Diego.
Among the study's participants, adherence to the Mediterranean diet was more protective than physical activity. The study, conducted in Greece, bolsters evidence from earlier studies pointing to the diet's health benefits and is the first to track 10-year heart disease risk in a general population. Most previous studies have focused on middle-aged people.
The study found that the Mediterranean diet was beneficial for all types of people--in both genders, in all age groups, and in both healthy people and those with health conditions. It also revealed that the Mediterranean diet had direct benefits for heart health, as well as indirect benefits in managing diabetes, hypertension and inflammation.
The study was based on data from a representative sample of more than 2,500 Greek adults, ages 18 to 89, who provided researchers with their health information each year from 2001 to 2012. Participants also completed in-depth surveys about their medical records, lifestyle and dietary habits at the start of the study, after five years and after 10 years.
Overall, nearly 20 percent of the men and 12 percent of the women who participated in the study developed or died from heart disease, including stroke, coronary heart disease caused by the buildup of plaque in the heart's arteries, heart attack and other diseases.
The researchers scored participants' diets on a scale from 1 to 55 based on their self-reported frequency and level of intake for 11 food groups. Those who scored in the top-third in terms of adherence to the Mediterranean diet, indicating they closely followed the diet, were 47 percent less likely to develop heart disease over the 10-year follow-up period as compared to participants who scored in the bottom-third, indicating they did not closely follow the diet.
Each one-point increase in the dietary score was associated with a 3 percent drop in heart disease risk.
This difference was independent of other heart disease risk factors including age, gender, family history, education level, body mass index, smoking habits, hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish and olive oil. Earlier research has shown that following the traditional Mediterranean diet is linked to weight loss, reduced risk of diabetes, lower blood pressure and lower blood cholesterol levels, in addition to reduced risk of heart disease.
The study was limited to participants living in and around Athens, Greece, so the sample does not necessarily reflect the health conditions or dietary patterns of people in more rural areas or the rest of the world. However, previous studies have also linked the Mediterranean diet with reduced cardiovascular risks, including the Nurses' Health Study, which included nearly 75,000 American nurses who were tracked over a 30-year period.
Source: The American College of Cardiology.
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