According to preliminary results of a Spanish study part of PREDIMED, a long-term nutritional intervention study aimed to assess the efficacy of the Mediterranean diet in the primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases, virgin olive oil is more effective in reducing heart disease than drugs.

Researchers are reporting that a Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil or nuts can reverse arteriosclerosis in carotid arteries in just one year.

The study included 187 participants over the age of 55 who were randomly assigned to 3 groups; the olive oil group followed the Mediterranean diet supplemented with 15 liters of virgin olive oil per three months which corresponded to about 10 tablespoons a day, the nut group also followed the Mediterranean diet with 30 grams (about 1 ounce) a day of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts, and the low fat diet group which were given instructions and material to follow a low-fat diet.

All the volunteers had the thickness of the artery walls of their carotid arteries measured, both at the beginning of the study and at the end of a year. “We thus observed who had suffered the greatest thickening of this layer, due to arteriosclerosis, a significant improvement and regression of lesions having taken place in those cases that had followed a Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil or nuts. This improvement was not observed amongst those who did not have thickening of the artery wall at the start of the study,” according to Dr. Ana Sánchez-Tainta, one of the researchers.

From the results it was concluded that “a modification in the entire diet pattern managed to achieve, in just one year, results that pharmaceutical drugs did not – even after two years of treatment.”

“Carotid intima-media thickness changes with Mediterranean diet: A randomized trial (PREDIMED-Navarra).” Atherosclerosis. 2011 September;218(1):174-180.

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