Results from a recent study suggest that adults who closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 47% less likely to develop heart disease during a 10-year period, when compared to similar adults who did not closely follow the diet.

The study is slated for presentation March 15 at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session in San Diego.

An American College of Cardiology news release states that the study was conducted in Greece and reinforces evidence from earlier studies indicating the diet’s health benefits and tracks 10-year heart disease risk in a general population. Many previous studies have reportedly focused on middle-aged individuals.

Ekavi Georgousopoulou, a PhD candidate at Harokopio University in Athens, Greece, conducted the study along with Demosthenes B. Panagiotakos, PhD, professor at Harokopio University.

“Our study shows that the Mediterranean diet is a beneficial intervention for all types of people—in both genders, in all age groups, and in both healthy people and those with health conditions,” says Georgousopoulou in the release.

Georgousopoulou adds that the study also suggests that the Mediterranean diet has direct benefits for heart health, in addition to its indirect benefits in managing diabetes, hypertension, and inflammation.

The release notes that the study is based on data from a representative sample of more than 2,500 Greek adults, aged 18 to 89 years old, who provided researchers with their health information each year from 2001 to 2012. The participants also completed in-depth surveys about their medical records, lifestyle, and dietary habits at the start of the study, after 5 years and after 10 years.

The results indicate that overall nearly 20% of the men and 12% of the women who participated in the study developed or died from heart disease. During the study, researchers scored participants’ diets on a scale from 1 to 55, based upon their self-reported frequency and level of intake for 11 food groups. Those who scored in the top-third in terms of adherence to the Mediterranean diet, (meaning they closely followed the diet), were 47% less likely to develop heart disease during the 10-year follow-up period when compared to participants who scored in the bottom-third (meaning they did not closely follow the diet). Each one-point increase in the dietary score was linked with a 3% drop in heart disease risk.

Researchers say the difference was independent of other heart disease risk factors such as age, gender, family history, education level, body mass index, smoking habits, hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, all of which they adjusted for in their analysis.

The release notes that the analysis also confirmed results of previous studies indicating that male gender, older age, diabetes, and high C-reactive protein levels, are linked to an increased risk for heart disease.

The release also states that while there is no set Mediterranean diet, it typically emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil and even a glass of red wine.

“Because the Mediterranean diet is based on food groups that are quite common or easy to find, people around the world could easily adopt this dietary pattern and help protect themselves against heart disease with very little cost,” Georgousopoulou says.

Additionally, the release points out that study was limited to participants living in and around Athens, Greece, and as such the sample does not necessarily reflect the health conditions or dietary patterns of people in more rural areas or the rest of the world. Yet, previous studies have also linked the Mediterranean diet with reduced cardiovascular risks.

Further studies in other adult populations, researchers say, would help advance understanding of the diet’s impact on heart disease risk.

Source(s): Science Daily, American College of Cardiology