A Mediterranean diet can decrease heart attack risk

mediterranean foodResearchers claim that by adhering to a healthy Mediterranean diet, this is almost as good for your heart as statins in reducing the risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke. The news emerges coincidentally as we approach the end of the ‘Rock up in Red’ campaign for National Heart Month, of which Medical Specialists Pharmacy are proud supporters of.

Cholesterol-busting statins such as Crestor (Rosuvastatin) and Lipitor (Atorvastatin) are currently prescribed to nearly a tenth (7 million) of the UK population and function by raising good/protective cholesterol (HDL) and lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides. The higher your cholesterol level, the bigger risk there is of suffering from a heart attack and stroke due to your arteries being clogged up with the fat-like substance known as cholesterol.

However, Spanish researchers led by Prof Ramon Estruch, a professor of medicine at Barcelona University, believe that consuming a Mediterranean diet comprising of plenty lot of fruit, vegetables, fish and wine, and only small amounts of red meat or dairy products, can provide some degree of defence against heart problems.

Many have previously acknowledged the fact that people from Mediterranean countries are more inclined to have lower levels of heart disease though there has been uncertainty if this was due to hereditary factors, or linked to diet and lifestyle.

For the study, the Spanish academics tracked 7,447 people during the years of 2003 and 2009 – consisting of men aged 55 to 88 and women aged 60 to 80. None of the participants had any kind of cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study. However, they were all at risk due to having type 2 diabetes or were at risk due to having three things from a list of health problems. These were: smoking, high blood pressure, high levels of bad cholesterol, low levels of healthy cholesterol, overweight or there being family history of coronary heart disease.

The participants were assigned into one of three groups; two of which were instructed to eat a Mediterranean diet – one supplemented with four table spoons of extra-virgin olive oil and the other with about one ounce of nuts (walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts). The third group were instead told to stick to a diet that included low-fat dairy products, grains and fruits and vegetables.

Following an average of 4.8 years assessment, 228 had either suffered a heart attack or stroke or died of heart-related problems. Of this total, 96 were in the olive oil group (3.4% of participants), 83 in the group eating plenty of nuts (3.4%) and 109 in the low-fat group (4.4%). This equates to a 30% decline in risk for those on the Mediterranean diets compared with the low fat diet.

Researchers say that important elements from the diets that boosted health included moderate consumption of ethanol – derived from the wine, low consumption of meat, and high intake of vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, fish and olive oil. In fact they were so impressed with their study findings that they began adopting a Mediterranean diet themselves.

The authors conclude: “The results of our trial might explain, in part, the lower cardiovascular mortality in Mediterranean countries than in northern Europe or the United States.”

Although not involved with the study, Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, commented on its findings, and advised against anybody deciding to forsake their prescribed statins in favour of merely a change in diet. He said: “This large long-term study shows that eating a Mediterranean diet is associated with heart health benefits, including reductions in heart attack, stroke and deaths from cardiovascular disease. While these findings aren’t new they add to our knowledge and confidence that a Mediterranean diet can help cut down your cardiovascular risk. A well-balanced diet low in salt, saturated fat and sugar is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. That said, a Mediterranean diet should not replace your prescribed medication.”

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