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Researchers enrolled 1,000 people into a study on diet and heart disease at the time they were admitted to the hospital for acute coronary syndrome (symptoms indicating a heart attack or chest pain caused when coronary artery disease prevents sufficient blood supply to the heart). Of the 1,000 participants, 459 had left ventricular systolic dysfunction, which is an indication of more severe heart disease.
The researchers gathered diet and lifestyle information within three days of each person’s hospital admittance. Each person received a diet score based on how closely he or she followed a Mediterranean diet, defined as eating mostly whole grains, fruit and nuts, vegetables, olive oil, nonfat or low-fat dairy products, fish, potatoes, legumes (beans and peas), and moderate alcohol use (approximately 2 drinks per day). The more closely a person followed a Mediterranean diet, the higher his or her dietary score.
People with the highest Mediterranean diet scores had 7% lower likelihood of developing left ventricular systolic dysfunction compared with those with the lowest diet scores. During the two years of follow-up, those with a high Mediterranean diet score were 12% less likely to experience additional heart disease events, such as a heart attack, compared with those with a low Mediterranean diet score.
This study does not prove cause and effect but it does suggest that even with existing heart disease, eating a Mediterranean diet may protect the heart from further damage. Not only are there no known downsides to going Mediterranean, this type of eating pattern also may protect against declining brain function with age (dementia) and some types of cancer.
To keep your ticker in tip-top shape, up the Mediterranean fare.
(Am J Clin Nutr; e-pub ahead of print July 2010)