Sticking to a Mediterranean diet, high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats, lowers levels of inflammation in the elderly, as reflected by lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), research shows. This effect should, in turn, lead to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease that has been associated with this type of diet.
CRP is a marker of inflammation that has been tied to the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Researchers from the Stanford School of Medicine in California studied the effect of diet on CRP levels in blood in 911 healthy individuals - 326 women and 585 men - whose average age was 66 years. Subjects were followed from January 2002 through December 2003.
Researchers assessed adherence to a Mediterranean diet with a food frequency questionnaire, from which they formulated the Mediterranean Diet Score, based on intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains, meat and meat products, dairy products, fish, alcohol and the mono-unsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio. Total scores ranged from 0 to 9 for adherence to the diet. Plasma CRP levels were measured periodically.
At the American Heart Association’s 46th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology, held this past weekend in Phoenix, Dr. Joan M. Fair reported that Mediterranean Diet Score correlated negatively with CRP level.
Each one-point increase in Mediterranean Diet Score was associated with a decrease in CRP of 0.14 mg/L in women and a decrease in CRP of 0.10 mg/L in men.
“The (positive) effects of the Mediterranean diet might be the anti-oxidant components of fruits and vegetables,” Fair told Reuters Health, “and the anti-inflammatory effects of the diet may be one explanation for its protective effect against cardiovascular disease.”
“There are other markers of inflammation that we haven’t assessed yet in terms of diet, such as high coronary artery content, which we found in 200 patients. We have the blood available, we just haven’t run the tests yet,” Fair said.
Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.