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Mediterranean Diet Reduces Heart Disease Risk Factors

The health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet have been shown to be very diverse, including helping maintain normal blood pressure levels, improving blood lipid profiles, reducing systemic inflammation, and supporting normal blood vessel function. Mediterranean Diets have also been found to increase antioxidant levels. Two recent studies have shown that adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced markers of vascular inflammation.

A new study has found that the Mediterranean diet outperforms low-fat diets in helping reduce the risk of heart disease.

In a new study published in the July 4, 2006 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers recruited over 900 patients enrolled in the PREDIMED study, 55 to 80 years of age who had three or more heart disease risk factors: current smoking, high blood pressure (above 140/90 mm Hg), high LDL cholesterol (above 160 mg/dL), low HDL cholesterol (below 40 mg/dL), high body mass index (above 25 kg/m2), or family history of heart disease.

Patients were assigned to one of three different diets for three months. The first diet was a low-fat diet where participants were told to reduce intake of all types of fat and given a leaflet with written recommendations according to the American Heart Association guidelines. The other two diets were variations of the Mediterranean Diet in terms of fat content. Patients in the first Mediterranean diet were given one liter of virgin olive oil per week, participants in the other diet were given free sachets of walnuts (1350 g per week), hazelnuts (675 g per week), and almonds (675 g per week). Throughout the study, all participants had free and continuous access to their dietitian for advice and consultation.

The researchers found that compared with the low-fat diet, the two Mediterranean diets produced beneficial changes in most of the risk factors for heart disease, including significant decreases in blood sugar, as much as a 7.1 mm Hg drop in systolic blood pressure, improvements in the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol, and a significant (0.54 mg/L) decrease in C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.

The researchers concluded, "our results suggest that the heart healthy effects of the Mediterranean diet are exerted partly through . . . improved lipid profiles and reductions in blood pressure, insulin resistance, and systemic markers of inflammation."


Estruch R. Effects of Mediterranean-Style Diet on Cardiovascular Risk Factors. Ann Intern Med. 2006 Jul;145:1-11.

Other studies on the Mediterranean Diet

Antonelli-Incalzi R, Pedone C, McDermott MM, et al. Association between nutrient intake and peripheral artery disease: results from the InCHIANTI study. Atherosclerosis. 2006 May;186(1):200-6.

Giugliano G, et al. Effect of a Mediterranean-style diet on endothelial dysfunction and markers of vascular inflammation in the metabolic syndrome: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2004;292:1440-6.

Menotti A, et al. Mediterranean diet, lifestyle factors, and 10-year mortality in elderly European men and women: the HALE project. JAMA. 2004;292:1433-9.

Merlos M, et al. Substituting walnuts for monounsaturated fat improves the serum lipid profile of hypercholesterolemic men and women. A randomized crossover trial. Ann Intern Med. 2000;132:538-46.

Paz-Rojas E, et al. Mediterranean and low-fat diets improve endothelial function in hypercholesterolemic men. Ann Intern Med. 2001;134:1115-9.

Perona JS. Virgin olive oil reduces blood pressure in hypertensive elderly subjects. Clin Nutr. 2004;23:1113-21.

Pitsavos C. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with total antioxidant capacity in healthy adults: the ATTICA study Am. J. Clinical Nutrition, Sep 2005; 82: 694 – 699.

Stefanadis C. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet attenuates inflammation and coagulation process in healthy adults: The ATTICA Study. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2004;44: 152-8.

Trichopoulou A. Mediterranean diet in relation to body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio: the Greek European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study. Am. J. Clinical Nutrition, Nov 2005; 82: 935 – 940.

Key concepts: magnesium, colorectal cancer