Some of the benefits of a Mediterranean-type diet - rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes and olive oil and light on red meat - may stem from the diet’s effect on inflammation, new research suggests.
In a study from Greece, markers of inflammation and blood clotting that are related to heart disease were lowest in people who adhered most closely to the traditional Mediterranean diet.
It is too soon to say whether the Mediterranean diet was responsible for the low levels of inflammation and blood-clotting markers, but the findings do provide a plausible explanation of the diet’s benefits, according to the study’s lead author.
“There is growing scientific evidence that diets high in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains and that include fish, nuts and low-fat dairy products offer protective health benefits,” Dr. Demosthenes B. Panagiotakos of Harokopio University in Athens told Reuters Health.
He noted that in the past few decades, a large body of evidence has linked the Mediterranean diet to reductions in heart disease, overall deaths and some kinds of cancer.
The latest results suggest that the Mediterranean diet protects the heart by reducing inflammation, Panagiotakos said.
“Our findings render this dietary pattern extremely attractive for public health purposes and should be adopted by almost everyone,” he said.
The results of the study appear in Wednesday’s issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
A Mediterranean-style diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts. It includes few saturated fats like the ones in red meat but plenty of healthier fatty acids like ones found in olive oil.
Inflammation is a prime suspect in a number of health problems, including heart disease, so Panagiotakos and his colleagues set out to measure the effect of a Mediterranean-style diet on inflammation and blood-clotting.
Over the course of a year, the researchers interviewed roughly 3,000 Greek men and women. The researchers also measured several proteins and other markers that are associated with inflammation and blood clotting.
People who stuck most closely to a traditional Mediterranean diet tended to have significantly lower levels of the inflammation and blood-clotting markers, the researchers report.
To make sure that the low levels of these markers were truly related to diet and were not a reflection of better overall health, the researchers accounted for many other factors, including physical activity, smoking, age, gender, socioeconomic status and several health conditions.
Even after taking into account the other factors, the Mediterranean diet was still associated with lower levels of inflammation and blood-clotting markers.
SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Cardiology, July 7, 2004.
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD