An accumulation of research data is continuing to conclude that the Mediterranean diet is a significantly heart-healthy diet, and can not only reduce the risk of heart disease, but those factors that contribute to heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
Mediterranean Diet and Atrial Fibrillation
Researchers from Spain’s University of Navarra and the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – along with others – have determined that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil significantly decreases the risk of atrial fibrillation. The researchers followed 6,704 people for nearly five years. A third of them ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts, a third ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil, and a third ate a low-fat diet. The researchers found that the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil reduced the risk of atrial fibrillation by 38% over the low-fat diet group. The group that ate the Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts experienced an over 10% decreased risk of atrial fibrillation over the low-fat diet group.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart beat, which has been linked with increased risk of stroke, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure and other heart conditions. Symptoms of A-fib can range from palpitations to pain near the heart region to no symptoms at all. Yes, many A-fib sufferers have no symptoms, and yet still may have a higher risk of heart failure, stroke and other heart conditions. The fact that eating a diet rich in plant-based foods including olive oil can reduce the risk of A-fib confirms that A-fib is not just a genetic disorder: It can certainly be prevented – or at least reduced in its risk of producing heart problems.
Mediterranean Diet Also Reduces Many Other Heart Disease Related Conditions
There have been numerous studies over the past 20 years showing that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. This body of research has been added to by another recent study showing the Mediterranean diet reduces blood pressure. In this study, 235 people were followed for a year with one of the three diets mentioned above. This study found that both Mediterranean diets reduced blood pressure, while the Mediterranean diet with extra virgin olive oil reduced systolic blood pressure by an average of 2.3 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 2.6 mmHg after one year. This study confirms another on 772 elderly patients, which found the Mediterranean diet reduced blood pressure (ranging from 6 to 7 mmHg) along with lower C-reactive protein levels (by an average of .54 mg/L). Many other studies have confirmed similar findings, and a 2013 Cochrane review of 11 qualified studies that included 52,044 people found the Med diet reduced cardiovascular disease risks, including lowering LDL-cholesterol and reducing blood pressure compared to control groups. As to whether the Mediterranean diet is heart-healthy compared to the Western diet and whether it is help for Westerners, this has been extensively studied by Harvard researchers and others. A recent study from Harvard, for example, studied 780 male U.S. firefighters. They found the Mediterranean diet significantly reduced the risk of weight gain, reduced metabolic syndrome (cardiovascular disease and diabetes), reduced LDL-cholesterol and increased LDL-cholesterol levels. The researchers wrote in their conclusion:
“Our results support the potential effectiveness of this diet in young, non-Mediterranean working cohorts, and justify future intervention studies.”
Heart-Healthy Components of Mediterranean Diet
This and other studies have found that the Mediterranean diet renders several parameters that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease in other research. According to the Cochrane authors from the UK’s Warwick Medical School, these components include:
- a high ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fats in the diet
- a low to moderate consumption of red wine
- a higher consumption of legumes
- a higher consumption of grains and cereals (fibre)
- a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables
- a reduced consumption of meat and meat products with increased consumption of fish
- the moderate consumption of milk and dairy products
By Case Adams Naturopath
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