Med Diet May Protect Against Air Pollution

New research reveals that the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of dying from heart attacks, cardiovascular disease and other causes related to long-term exposure to air pollution.

Jun. 11, 2018
By Jacqueline Parisi

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A recent study con­ducted by researchers at the NYU School of Medicine revealed that adher­ence to the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) may mit­i­gate the detri­men­tal effects of air pol­lu­tion.

Author Chris Lim, who pre­sented the find­ings at the American Thoracic Society’s 2018 International Conference ear­lier last month, exam­ined data from a cohort of nearly 550,000 peo­ple across the United States for a period of 17 years.

Given the ben­e­fits we found of a diet high in anti-oxi­dants, our results are con­sis­tent with the hypoth­e­sis that par­ti­cle air pol­lu­tion caused by fos­sil fuel com­bus­tion adversely affects health by induc­ing oxida­tive stress and inflam­ma­tion.- Chris Lim, NYU School of Medicine

Lim and his col­leagues wanted to deter­mine whether an antiox­i­dant-rich MedDiet that eschews red meat and processed foods in favor of fruits, veg­eta­bles, legumes, whole grains, fish and olive oil impacts the cor­re­la­tion between pro­longed expo­sure to ambi­ent air pol­lu­tion and cause-spe­cific mor­tal­ity.

Air pol­lu­tion is hypoth­e­sized to cause bad health effects through oxida­tive stress and inflam­ma­tion,” explained Lim, and the Mediterranean diet is really rich in foods that are anti-inflam­ma­tory and have antiox­i­dants that might inter­vene through those avenues.”

The researchers first grouped par­tic­i­pants based on how closely their eat­ing habits aligned with the MedDiet at the out­set of the trial before ref­er­enc­ing cen­sus tract infor­ma­tion to esti­mate par­tic­i­pants’ long-term expo­sure to three spe­cific types of air pol­lu­tion: par­tic­u­late mat­ter (PM2.5), nitrous oxide (NO2) and ozone (O3).

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The sub­se­quent analy­sis focused on the sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant impact of the MedDiet on deaths from all causes, in addi­tion to car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease-related deaths and heart attacks.

When it came to deaths from all causes, the results revealed a 5‑percent increase for every 10 parts per bil­lion (ppb) increase in NO2 expo­sure for those least adher­ent to the MedDiet, com­pared to 2 per­cent for the most adher­ent.

Results for car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease were sim­i­lar, with a 17-per­cent increase in deaths for every 10 micro­grams per cubic meter increase in PM2.5 expo­sure for those least adher­ent to the diet, com­pared to 5 per­cent for the most adher­ent.

The trends for heart attack deaths were also aligned, with a 20-per­cent increase com­pared to 5 per­cent in terms of expo­sure to PM2.5 expo­sure and 12 per­cent com­pared to 4 per­cent for NO2. In fact, the only mea­sur­able out­lier was O3 expo­sure, which results revealed was not cor­re­lated with a MedDiet.

Given the ben­e­fits we found of a diet high in anti-oxi­dants, our results are con­sis­tent with the hypoth­e­sis that par­ti­cle air pol­lu­tion caused by fos­sil fuel com­bus­tion adversely affects health by induc­ing oxida­tive stress and inflam­ma­tion,” explained George Thurston, senior study author and direc­tor of the Program in Exposure Assessment and Human Health Effects at the Department of Environmental Medicine. On the other hand, the ozone effect was not sig­nif­i­cantly blunted by a Mediterranean diet, so ozone appar­ently affects car­diac health through a dif­fer­ent mech­a­nism.”

Two key caveats, how­ever, were that the eat­ing pat­terns of par­tic­i­pants may have shifted over the course of the study, as well as the fact that the demo­graph­ics (major­ity white, higher income) were not an accu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the pop­u­la­tion at large.

However, as Lim noted to Olive Oil Times, the results are nonethe­less inter­est­ing. Our study draws on a very detailed and large cohort, uses lat­est air pol­lu­tion pre­dic­tion mod­els and pro­vides very novel results.”





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