UNITED KINGDOM: A global review of the evidence shows that a Mediterranean diet can help hundreds of millions of people who are more likely to get heart disease to avoid having a heart attack, stroke, or dying too soon.
A diet that is high in olive oil, seafood, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains has been linked to several benefits, and it is well-known that it helps healthy people live longer.
However, there has been limited proof of how it might benefit those with a higher chance of cardiovascular disease, up until now. These include the hundreds of millions of individuals who have obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol, as well as those who don’t exercise, drink too much alcohol, or smoke.
At the moment, guidelines suggest different diets for people who are more likely to have heart problems, but they often use data from non-randomized studies that aren’t very reliable. Now, a sizable study—the first of its kind in the world—that analysed 40 randomised controlled trials involving more than 35,000 individuals has offered solid proof.
The Mediterranean and low-fat diets lower the likelihood of heart attack and death in people who have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, claims the first comparative analysis of seven programmes, which was published in the BMJ journal.
The study’s authors wrote that “moderate-certainty evidence shows that programmes promoting Mediterranean and low-fat diets, with or without physical activity or other interventions, reduce all-cause mortality and non-fatal myocardial infarction [heart attacks] in patients with increased cardiovascular risk. Mediterranean programmes are also likely to reduce stroke risk.”
Researchers from Spain, the United States, China, Canada, and Brazil reviewed 40 trials that involved 35,548 participants who were tracked for a total of seven diet programmes throughout an average three-year period.
The seven diets were Mediterranean, very low fat, low fat, modified fat, mixed low fat and low sodium, Pritikin (a plant-based diet that limits processed foods), and Ornish (a vegetarian diet that is low in fat and refined sugar).
Based on data with a moderate degree of certainty, Mediterranean diet programmes were more effective than minimal intervention in reducing cardiovascular diseases risk factors such as all-cause mortality, stroke, and nonfatal heart attacks in individuals who are at high risk of cardiovascular disease.
With moderate certainty, low-fat programmes also outperformed minimal intervention in preventing non-fatal heart attacks and all-cause mortality.
Based mostly on evidence with low to moderate certainty, the five other dietary programmes usually had little to no effect when compared with minimal intervention.
The researchers admitted that their study had several limitations, including the inability to assess diet plan adherence and the potential that some of the benefits might have come from other aspects of the programmes, such as medication and assistance with quitting smoking. However, the BMJ claimed that it was a thorough assessment.
Although the benefits of a Mediterranean diet for the heart have long been known, Tracy Parker, a senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, which was not involved in the study, said that “it’s encouraging to see programmes like these reduce the risk of death and heart attacks in patients who were already at risk for cardiovascular disease.”
“Whether or not you are at risk, a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet like the Mediterranean-style diet can help you lower your risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases,” Parker said. The Mediterranean diet also lowers the chance of cardiovascular disease-related risk factors like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol.
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