Can the Mediterranean diet help prevent heart disease, dementia and cancer?

For some time, researchers have suggested that the Mediterranean diet — high in fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains and fish — may help reduce the risk of heart disease and increase life expectancy. A growing body of scientific evidence now supports this notion. Recent studies have linked lower rates of cardiovascular disease, dementia and cancer to Mediterranean diets. Today’s medical news looked at the evidence and talked to experts about the science behind the benefits of this diet.

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Several recent studies show that the Mediterranean diet can help prevent several diseases and chronic diseases. Image credit: Cameron Whitman/Stokey.

Over the years, many diets have been recommended to maintain good health or reduce the risk of certain diseases, but few have stood up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.

One exception is the Mediterranean diet.

More and more research is showing significant health benefits for people who follow this eating plan. Studies have shown that it not only reduces cardiovascular disease, but also benefits cognition, lowers the risk of diabetes, lowers the risk of certain cancers, and relieves symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Mediterranean diet It is an umbrella term that refers to diets based on the historical eating habits of people living around the Mediterranean.

Appropriate American Heart AssociationThe main features of this type of diet for cardiovascular health are:

  • eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes
  • low-fat or fat-free dairy products, fish, poultry, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts
  • limited added sugars, sugary drinks, sodium, highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats.

The Harvard School of Public Health adds to these recommendations, emphasizing the importance of healthy fats—olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fatty fish.

He advises people to eat red meat only occasionally, but to get protein from fish or seafood at least twice a week, and to eat small amounts of poultry, eggs and dairy on most days.

Although water should be a person’s primary drink, people following a traditional Mediterranean diet may drink one or two small glasses of red wine each day.

The researchers add that a healthy diet should be combined with some form of enjoyable daily physical activity.

Dr. Scott Kaiser, geriatrician and director of the Division of Geriatric Cognitive Health at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California:

“Research supports the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and shows that it can play an important role in shaping our future individual and collective health. […] Start by adding lots of fresh vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, then follow up with fresh fruits and other antioxidant-rich foods like berries, fish, olive oil, and other foods rich in brain-healthy omega-3s.

Mediterranean diets have long been associated with cardiovascular health benefits. In the mid-20th century, the Seven Countries Study found that Mediterranean dietary patterns in the 1960s and Japan were associated with lower rates of coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality.

Since then, studies have shown that this type of diet not only improves cardiovascular health, but also reduces the risk of many other health conditions.

Recently, there is increasing evidence of the health benefits of following a Mediterranean diet. But what makes the Mediterranean diet so healthy?

“The Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high intake of fruit and vegetables, high levels of fibre, high levels of ‘good fats’, moderate consumption of fish and meat, and low intake of highly processed foods and sweets,” said Dr Eamon Laird, visiting fellow. Research Fellow, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.

“These nutrients are rich in fiber, good fats, antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins and minerals – choline, vitamin C, potassium, B-vitamins, vitamin D from fish, and more.” gives. [and] proteins that provide health benefits to many organ and tissue systems,” he explained.

Many studies have examined the effect of the Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk.

A meta-analysis of several studies published in March 2023, with a combined sample of more than 700,000 female participants, found that following a Mediterranean diet reduced women’s risk of cardiovascular disease by 24% and their risk of death. by 23% for any reason.

According to Dr. Laird, “[w]There are also many more symptoms associated with dieting than men, which may explain why we see more health benefits in women.”

The meta-analysis seems to confirm the results of previous studies. For example, in 2015 another meta-analysis It has been found that the Mediterranean diet may be a key factor in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

According to Dr. Joanna Hodges, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University, it was the whole diet rather than a specific aspect. Tenge.

“[The study] It was concluded that no single component of the Mediterranean diet is as beneficial as the whole diet. [in CVD prevention]”, he told us.

There is also growing evidence that diet can improve cognitive function. A A study published in March People who follow a Mediterranean diet have up to a 23% lower risk of dementia in 2023, using data from UK Biobank.

A study using data from more than 60,000 people concluded that the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of dementia in people with a genetic predisposition to dementia.

The authors concluded that eating a diet rich in healthy, plant-based foods may be a strategy to reduce the risk of dementia.

Another study published in March 2023 that looked at postmortem Alzheimer’s pathology found that those who followed a Mediterranean or MIND diet, particularly rich in leafy greens, had significantly lower beta-amyloid burden.

Beta-amyloid It is believed to be responsible for many of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

The diet may also be beneficial for people with multiple sclerosis (MS). A preliminary study to be presented at the 75th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in April 2023 found that people with MS who followed a Mediterranean diet had a 20% lower risk of cognitive impairment than those who followed it least.

Diet can reduce the risk of some cancers and improve the effectiveness of some cancer treatments.

2019 review found that high adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with lower rates of several cancers, including breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.

This study concluded that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of dietary components “prevent and counteract DNA damage and slow the development of various forms of cancer.”

For prostate cancer, recent studies have shown that eating a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of developing prostate cancer and accelerates recovery those who have undergone radiation therapy due to the disease.

Studies in South Australia have found that the diet is high lycopene and selenium reduced the risk.

Tomatoes, cantaloupe, papaya, grapes, peaches, watermelon, and cranberries are rich in lycopene, while white meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, and nuts contain high concentrations of selenium. All this is recommended in the Mediterranean diet.

It is not only prostate cancer patients that may benefit from a Mediterranean diet.

A recent study presented at UEG Week 2022 found that diet was significantly associated with improved response to immunotherapy drugs in people with advanced melanoma.

Although the exact mechanism behind the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet is unknown, there is growing evidence that the diet may be beneficial. five main influences:

  • lowering lipids
  • protects against oxidative stress, inflammation and platelet aggregation
  • altering hormones and growth factors involved in cancer pathogenesis
  • restriction of specific amino acids
  • influencing the gut microbiome to produce metabolites beneficial to metabolic health.

Dr. Laird explained Tenge How some components of the diet affect health:

“Omega-3 fatty acids, phytosterols, resveratrolvitamins and polyphenols may help reduce inflammation (CRP, inflammatory cytokines) and may improve endothelium function. By lowering inflammation levels, improving blood flow, improving insulin sensitivity, and improving lipid metabolism, you will by default reduce some of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, cancer, and diabetes.

Research has found that these nutrients are best taken naturally as part of a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet.

Although they can be obtained through supplements, taking excessive amounts can have side effects.

The Mediterranean diet is just one of the many health benefits. Others include the MIND, Nordic, and DASH diets.

“The theme is common to the whole world [healthy] diets – the severe effects of plant foods we see […] has many benefits in increasing dietary fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals,” said Keith Cohen, a registered dietitian at the Allison Clinic in St. John’s, part of the Allison Institute for Transformative Medicine and St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. , CA.

So, the key to any healthy diet is to have plenty of vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats. Most importantly, any dietary changes must be long-term and sustainable in order to have beneficial health effects.

“Long term [the Mediterranean diet] It can be difficult to maintain its true form, especially for people who are used to processed food diets. A good approach would be to slowly build the components into your current diet — again, variety is the spice of life, so we should have a varied and varied diet and not rely on just one dietary pattern to meet all of our needs and requirements. taste – food should be enjoyed too!’

– Dr. Eamonn Laird