MedDiet Protects Against Atherosclerotic Plaque

A study using tomography scans showed the arteries of people with high adherence to the MedDiet had significantly less atherosclerotic plaque than people with low adherence.

By Mary West
Jan. 26, 2020 09:42 UTC

European sci­en­tists found that fol­low­ing the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) has a dose-depen­dent pro­tec­tive effect against ath­er­o­scle­rotic plaque. This means that the more closely peo­ple adhere to the eat­ing plan, the less their arter­ies will be clogged, a ben­e­fit that low­ers their risk of heart attack and stroke.

Of all the diets that we’ve stud­ied, every­body comes back and says the Mediterranean diet is the one we should fol­low.- Chris Packard, University of Glasgow (via Medscape)

Lead author Rocio Mateo-Gallego, of the Hospital Universitario Miguel Servet in Zaragoza, Spain, pre­sented the study’s results recently at the European Atherosclerosis Society 2017 Annual Congress. She said the MedDiet was asso­ci­ated with reduced pres­ence, thick­ness and num­ber of ath­er­o­scle­rotic plaques, adding that the link was strongest in the artery in the thigh, called the femoral artery. The ben­e­fit was par­tic­u­larly robust among smok­ers.

Mateo-Gallego explained that stud­ies on ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis mainly involve the artery in the neck, termed the carotid artery. In an ear­lier ran­dom­ized con­trolled clin­i­cal trial eval­u­at­ing the effects of the MedDiet, researchers found it was asso­ci­ated with the regres­sion of carotid plaque over sev­eral years.

However, recent research sug­gests plaques in the femoral artery are bet­ter pre­dic­tors of the risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease. The pres­ence of plaque in this blood ves­sel is also highly cor­re­lated with cal­cium in the arter­ies of the heart. Therefore, Mateo-Gallego sought to inves­ti­gate the effect of the MedDiet on the femoral artery, as well as the aorta and the carotid artery.

Tomography was used to deter­mine the extent of ath­er­o­scle­rotic plaque in 2,523 mid­dle-aged auto work­ers who didn’t have a his­tory of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease. Plaque was present in 1,983 of the par­tic­i­pants.

A 134-food item ques­tion­naire was employed to assess the degree of adher­ence to the MedDiet. This eat­ing plan con­sists of fruits, veg­eta­bles, whole grains, nuts, legumes and fish. The main source of fat in the diet is olive oil, but it also includes mod­er­ate amounts of sat­u­rated fat and dairy prod­ucts.

Scores denot­ing adher­ence to the MedDiet can range from 0 to 9, with higher scores indi­cat­ing food choices that more closely resem­ble the plan. The aver­age over­all score was 4.19, which sug­gested mod­er­ate adher­ence.

When par­tic­i­pants in the high­est quar­tile of 6 to 9 were com­pared to those in the low­est quar­tile of 0 to 2, a sig­nif­i­cant reduc­tion was seen in plaque in the femoral arter­ies. Although less plaque was also noted in the aor­tas of those in the high­est quar­tile, it wasn’t sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant after adjust­ments were made for other fac­tors. No dif­fer­ences were seen in the carotid arter­ies between par­tic­i­pants in the two quar­tiles.

A big advan­tage was found for smok­ers, as the pres­ence of plaque in the femoral artery was decreased 61 per­cent among those in the high­est quar­tile. Mateo-Gallego said adher­ence to the MedDiet was inversely asso­ci­ated with the num­ber of plaques in all blood ves­sels tested with the excep­tion of the carotid artery.

While the MedDiet is linked to a reduced like­li­hood of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, the mech­a­nisms of action that under­lie this ben­e­fit aren’t known. The new find­ings reveal that part of the advan­tage stems from the fact that it may pre­vent the for­ma­tion of plaque that lines the inner walls of arter­ies.

As research pro­gresses, more of the rea­sons that under­lie the MedDiet’s pos­i­tive effects will become under­stood. However, inte­gra­tive physi­cian Michael Wald, direc­tor of longevity ser­vices at Integrated Nutrition in Mount Kisco, New York, shared with Olive Oil Times what has already been dis­cov­ered on the sub­ject.

The high con­tent of omega‑3 fatty acids from fish, oleic oil from olive oil and monoun­sat­u­rated fats from avo­ca­dos give the MedDiet its pro­tec­tive effects for all man­ner of inflam­ma­tory dis­eases, includ­ing, but not lim­ited to, heart and blood ves­sel dis­ease. Omega‑3 fatty acids reduce the for­ma­tion of prostaglandins‑1 and 2, sub­stances that pro­mote heart and ves­sel dis­ease; while they increase the for­ma­tion of prostaglandin‑3, an anti-inflam­ma­tory com­pound,” Wald said.

The omega‑9 fatty acids in olive oil fur­ther reduce inflam­ma­tion and decrease the thick­ness or vis­cos­ity of blood, which helps off­set blood clots, hard­en­ing of arter­ies and even hyper­ten­sion. Avocados are high in the monoun­sat­u­rated fats believed to improve the flex­i­bil­ity of arter­ies, thus help­ing main­tain cir­cu­la­tion and over­all car­dio­vas­cu­lar health,” he said.

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