It’s well-established that lifestyle factors, such as diet, influence the risk of developing heart disease and many other chronic diseases. But what about in people who are already ill?
A study from Spain compared the effects of two different diets on the endothelium, the walls that cover the arteries. The degree of endothelial damage predicts the occurrence of future heart attacks.
One thousand patients who had previously had a heart attack took part in the study and were monitored over the course of one year.
Mediterranean vs. low fat diet
During the study, half of the patients were told to follow a Mediterranean diet, based on using plenty of virgin olive oil, eating fruit and vegetables every day, and having three servings of beans/lentils, three of fish and three of nuts each week.
In addition, they were told to cut down on eating meat, especially red meat, and to avoid additional fats such as margarine and butter as well as foods high in sugar.
The other group was told to follow a low-fat diet, based on limiting all kinds of fat, both animal and plant, and increasing their intake of complex carbohydrates. They were told to cut down on red meat, to choose low-fat dairy products, to avoid eating nuts and to reduce their intake of sweets and pastries.
The vasodilation capacity of participants’ arteries was analyzed; vasodilation capacity is important in order to adapt to different circumstances, like exercise or stressful situations. The degree of permanent endothelium damage was also assessed.
Finally, the reparation ability of the arteries by means of endothelial cells was measured. Endothelial cells, the cells that make up the structure of blood vessels, drive regeneration in organ tissues by releasing beneficial, organ-specific molecules.
Mediterranean diet promotes artery health
The Mediterranean diet induced better endothelial function, meaning that the arteries were more flexible in adapting to different situations in which greater blood flow is required. The endothelium's ability to regenerate was better and the researchers also found a reduction in damage to the endothelium, even in patients at severe risk.
Though the Mediterranean diet, rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, had already been proven to be a good strategy in order to improve endothelial function in overweight patients as well as patients with high cholesterol, this is the first time that the benefits of following a Mediterranean diet have been shown among people with heart disease, helping them to reduce the likelihood of having another heart attack.
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