Could the Mediterranean diet help keep heart disease, dementia and cancer at bay?

For some time, researchers have suggested that a Mediterranean diet rich 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 view. Recent research has linked reduced rates of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and cancer to Mediterranean diets. Medical News Today He looked at the evidence and talked to experts about the science behind the benefits of this diet.

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Several recent studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet may help keep various diseases and chronic conditions at bay. Image credit: Cameron Whitman/Stocksy.

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

One exception, however, seems to be the Mediterranean diet.

Increasingly, studies are showing significant health benefits for people following this eating plan. Studies have shown that it not only reduces cardiovascular disease, but may also benefit cognition, reduce the risk of diabetes, reduce the risk of certain cancers, and alleviate the 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.

According to this American Heart AssociationThe main features that recommend this type of diet for cardiovascular health are:

  • high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes
  • low-fat or nonfat 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 by emphasizing the importance of healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and oily fish.

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

While water is a person’s main drink, according to the traditional Mediterranean diet, people can also drink one or two small glasses of red wine each day.

But the researchers add that a healthy diet should be paired with some type of enjoyable physical activity each day.

D., a geriatrician and director of Geriatric Cognitive Health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. Scott Kaiser noted:

“Research supports the benefits of adopting healthy lifestyle habits and shows the critical importance this can play in shaping our future individual and collective health. […] Start by including lots of fresh vegetables—especially green leafy vegetables—and then enjoy fresh fruits (like strawberries) and other antioxidant-rich foods alongside 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 showed that dietary patterns were associated with lower rates of coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality in the Mediterranean and Japan in the 1960s.

Since then, research has shown that this type of diet not only benefits cardiovascular health, but also reduces the risk of many other health conditions.

And recently, evidence has been growing for the far-reaching health benefits of following a Mediterranean diet. But what exactly makes Mediterranean diets so healthy?

“The Mediterranean diet is characterized by high fruits and vegetables, high fiber, high levels of ‘good fats’, moderate fish and meat intake, low amounts of highly processed foods and sugary foods,” said Eamon Laird. Research fellow at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.

“These food ingredients are high in fiber, good fats, antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins and minerals – choline, vitamin C, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin D from fish, etc. [and] “proteins that confer health benefits on numerous organ and tissue systems,” he explained.

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

A meta-analysis of several studies, published in March 2023 that pooled more than 700,000 female participants, found that women strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet reduced their risk of CVD by 24% and their risk of death. 23% for some reason.

According to Laird, “[w]prophecies are much more likely to adhere to diet than men, which may explain why we see more health benefits in women.

The meta-analysis seems to confirm the findings of previous research. For example, in 2015, another meta-analysis He found that the Mediterranean diet could be an important factor in preventing CVD.

Assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University, Dr. As Joanna Hodges said, it was a complete diet rather than any particular trait that seemed to have this effect. MNT.

“[The study] He concluded that no specific 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 Research published in March Using UK Biobank data, 2023 reported that individuals with a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet had up to a 23% lower risk of dementia compared to those with a lower adherence to the Mediterranean diet.

Using data from more than 60,000 people, the study concluded that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of dementia, even in those with a genetic predisposition to dementia.

The authors conclude that adopting a diet high in healthy, plant-based foods may be a strategy for reducing the risk of dementia.

Another study, also published in March 2023, examining post-mortem Alzheimer’s pathology, found that those who followed a Mediterranean or MIND diet particularly rich in leafy greens had much lower beta-amyloid load.

beta-amyloid It is thought 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 American Academy of Neurology’s 75th Annual Meeting in April 2023, found that people with MS who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 20% lower risk of cognitive impairment than those who followed the least.

Diet has been found to both reduce the risk of some cancers and increase the effectiveness of some cancer treatments.

2019 review It found that high adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a lower rate of many cancers, including breast, colorectal and prostate cancers.

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

Recent research for prostate cancer shows that eating a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables both reduces the risk of developing prostate cancer and accelerates healing in those undergoing radiation therapy for the disease.

Studies from South Australia found that diets were highly lycopene And selenium reduced the risk.

Tomatoes, melons, papayas, grapes, peaches, watermelons and cranberries are rich in lycopene, and poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs and nuts contain high concentrations of selenium. All of these are recommended in the Mediterranean diet.

And it’s not just prostate cancer patients whose treatment may be more effective with the Mediterranean diet.

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

While the exact mechanism by which the Mediterranean diet benefits health is unclear, there is increasing evidence that the diet may benefit health. five main effects:

  • lowering lipids
  • Protection against oxidative stress, inflammation and platelet aggregation
  • changing hormones and growth factors involved in cancer pathogenesis
  • restrict certain amino acids
  • Influencing the gut microbiome to produce metabolites that benefit metabolic health.

Dr. Laird explained MNT How some components of the diet benefit health:

“Omega-3 fatty acids, phytosterols, resveratrolvitamins and polyphenols may contribute to lower levels of inflammation (CRP, inflammatory cytokines) and can recover endothelial function. By reducing inflammation levels, improving blood flow, improving insulin sensitivity and improving lipid metabolism, you also reduce some of the key risk factors for CVD, cognitive decline, cancers and diabetes by default.

Studies have found that it is best to get these nutrients in their natural form as part of a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet.

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

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

“The common thread all over the world [healthy] Diets are a heavy influence of the plant foods we see. […] Kate Cohen, a registered dietitian at the Ellison Clinic in Saint John’s, part of the Ellison Institute of Transformative Medicine and Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, “has numerous benefits in increasing dietary fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. there is,” he said. , CA.

Therefore, the key to any healthy diet is plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Most importantly, any dietary changes made must be long-term and sustainable to provide health benefits.

“Long-term [the Mediterranean diet] Its true form can be difficult to follow, especially for those accustomed to processed food diets. A good approach would be to slowly integrate the ingredients into your current diet and build them up gradually – again, diversity is the spice of life and we should have a varied and varied diet and not rely on just one dietary pattern to meet all our needs and needs. flavors—food should be savored too!”

– Dr. Eamon Laird