The latest results from a Spanish study show that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts can reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke by 30 percent, compared to a low fat diet. The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine is part of the ongoing Intervention Study PREDIMED, that was designed to study the effects of the Mediterranean diet on the primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
The researchers divided over 7,000 participants who had a high risk for cardiovascular disease in three dietary intervention groups: an unrestricted calorie Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts, or a control low fat diet. The participants were followed for almost 5 years with questionnaires for measurement of compliance to diet, biomarkers of compliance (tests measuring urinary hydroxytyrosol levels to confirm compliance in the group receiving extra-virgin olive oil and plasma alpha-linolenic acid levels to confirm compliance in the group receiving mixed nuts), as well as weight, height and waist circumference measurements.
The researchers noted rates of heart attacks, stroke or cardiovascular related deaths. The results of the study showed that the group that received the Mediterranean diet intervention with olive oil or nuts had a 30 percent reduced incidence of major cardiovascular events.
This is not the first time the Mediterranean diet has been shown to protect from cardiovascular disease. There have been several large observational studies that have shown that adherence to the Mediterranean diet significantly reduces total mortality such as the Greek segment of the EPIC Study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) that followed over 22000 individuals and found that a higher degree of adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a significant reduction in total mortality.
It is a well-accepted fact that the Mediterranean diet and its main component olive oil can protect from cardiovascular disease. Back in 2004 the Food and Drug Administration allowed the health claim that two tablespoons of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. In the U.S. several hospitals are serving a Mediterranean diet, while many doctors recommend this type of diet to their patients rather then the typical low fat diet.
Antonia Trichopoulou, director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Nutrition at the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology of the School of Medicine at the University of Athens, and expert on the Mediterranean diet, told Olive Oil Times these are not necessarily new findings but rather a strong confirmation of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. “This was a good study that presents proof through intervention. It basically provides conclusive evidence and settles the case for the Mediterranean diet once and for all” she said.