Health Studies

Cardioprotective Effect of Mediterranean Diet

Ventricular hypertrophy, or the thickening and enlargement of heart ventricles due to the accumulation of scar tissue, is thought to be a root cause of many heart ailments. To investigate how diet relates to this condition, researchers analyzed eating patterns and left ventricular mass (the size of the left ventricle of the heart, where enlargement is most common) of over 1,700 adults without history of heart attack or stroke. The scientists found that those most closely adhering to a Mediterranean Diet had a left ventricular mass that was 4% less than the rest of the study population, a reduction greater than that observed in people with moderate-to-heavy physical activity (another factor that supports heart health). In fact, for each point increase on the Mediterranean Diet Score (0-9), left ventricular mass was 1.98g lower (average left ventricular mass was 189g).
American Journal of Cardiology. 2015 Feb 15;115(4):510-4. (Gardener H et al.)

Med Diet May Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk by Half

The Mediterranean diet, famous for its link with healthy aging, may also cut the risk for Alzheimer’s. Researchers studied the relationship between eating patterns and Alzheimer’s in 923 retired adults in Chicago over an average of 4.5 years.  The scientists rated participants’ diets based on how closely they adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet (a healthy diet used to treat hypertension that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, and limited sweets and salt) and the MIND diet. The MIND diet is a hybrid Mediterranean-DASH diet that emphasizes foods associated with brain health, including whole grains, green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, and fish. Those most closely following the Mediterranean diet were 54% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s dementia (more than any other diet group). Comparatively, those most closely following the DASH diet were 39% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s dementia. The group most closely following the MIND diet (which shares many similarities with the Med diet) was 53% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s dementia than the group with the lowest MIND diet scores, and even those moderately following the MIND diet were at a 35% lower risk. 

Alzheimer’s and Dementia. 2015 Feb 11. pii: S1552-5260(15)00017-5. [Epub ahead of print] (Morris MC et al.)

Antioxidant in Olive Oil has Anti-Cancer Properties

A worthy star of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil gains much of its prestige from the various antioxidants that it contains. To see how one of these antioxidants affects cancer growth, New York scientists extracted oleocanthal (OC), a compound in extra virgin olive oil, and applied it to a variety of cancer cells.  According to the scientists, “Amazingly, OC induced cell death in all cancer cells examined – as rapidly as 30 minutes after treatment,” but did not cause cell death in noncancerous cells. This finding opens up a new field in the area of cancer research, as scientists are eager to find more ways to treat and prevent this devastating disease. While guzzling olive oil is by no means a cure for cancer, these findings support existing research that enhancing your meals with olive oil is a delicious and nutritious practice to build a long and healthy life.
Molecular and Cellular Oncology. 2015 Jan 23. [Epub ahead of print] (LeGendre O et al.)

Avocados Help Lower Cholesterol

Avocados are the perfect example of how delicious healthy eating can be! Researchers assigned 45 overweight and obese adults to one of three cholesterol lowering diets: a lower fat (24% calories from fat) diet, a moderate fat (34% calories from fat) diet with one avocado per day, and a moderate fat (34% calories from fat) diet with sunflower and canola oils. Those on the avocado diet lowered their “bad cholesterol” significantly more than those on the other diets. Additionally, the avocado group was the only group to significantly decrease LDL particle number (a risk factor for heart disease) and improve the ratio of LDL to HDL (the gap between “bad” and “good” cholesterol). 
Journal of the American Heart Association. 2015 Jan 7 (Wang L et al.).

Mediterranean Diet Associated With Healthy Aging, DNA

Telomeres, DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes, can tell us a lot about aging and longevity, as shorter telomeres are associated with many age related diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. To determine the relationship between DNA and diet, Harvard researchers analyzed food intake and telomere length from over 4,600 healthy nurses using data from the Nurses’ Health Study. Researchers found that people with the greatest adherence to the Mediterranean Diet (lots of vegetables, fruits, grains (mostly unrefined), fish, legumes, and nuts, and less meat) had the longest telomeres, a good indicator of healthy aging. Additionally, the scientists pointed out that no one specific food was pinpointed as the best, reinforcing the importance of a well-rounded, healthy diet.
British Medical Journal. 2014 Dec 2;349. (Crous-Bou M et al.)

Olive Oil May Decrease Risk for Coronary Artery Disease

The Mediterranean Diet has long been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, so researchers decided to take a closer look at how olive oil, one of the staples of this cuisine, might play a role in heart health. In a European study, researchers gave 63 healthy participants a daily 20 ml supplement of either refined olive oil (low phenolic content) or extra virgin olive oil (high phenolic content) for six weeks. Then researchers measured the participants for urinary proteomic biomarkers (certain peptides in the urine that are associated with specific diseases). After the six-week supplementation, both olive oil groups showed a significant improvement in the biomarkers for coronary artery disease, but no significant difference in the biomarkers for diabetes or chronic kidney disease, and no significant change in cholesterol levels.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014 Nov 19 [Epub ahead of print] (Silva S et al.)

Med Diet May Slow Decline in Kidney Function

Our kidneys have many important functions; besides filtering waste, they help control blood pressure, help make red blood cells, and more. The eGFR (estimated glomular filtration rate) is a blood lab that is used to assess kidney function, as low eGFR levels can indicate kidney damage or even kidney failure. In a 15 year study following  900 adults (free of stroke and coronary artery disease), researchers analyzed diet and eGFR status. The researchers found that people most closely following the Mediterranean Diet were least likely to have a low eGFR, and least likely to have a high rate of eGFR decline (which would have indicated a worsening of kidney function).
Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. 2014 Nov 7;9(11). (Khatri M et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Can Reverse Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a dangerous cluster of 3 or more conditions: central obesity (storing fat around your middle), high blood pressure, high triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood), high LDL (bad) cholesterol, low HDL (good) cholesterol, and high blood sugar. Metabolic syndrome greatly increases your risk for heart disease and diabetes, but luckily, researchers found a delicious way to reverse the condition. Scientists in Spain reviewed data collected during the PREDIMED study in which over 7,400 adults at risk of heart disease were randomly assigned to eat 1 of 3 diets: Mediterranean Diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, Mediterranean Diet supplemented with nuts, or a control diet (patients received advice on a low-fat diet). Researchers found that while the Mediterranean diet was not associated with the onset of metabolic syndrome, reversal of the condition (decrease in central obesity and/or high blood sugar) occurred in nearly one third of patients eating either version of the delicious and nutritious Mediterranean diet.
Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2014 Oct 14. Pii:cmaj.140764. [Epub ahead of print] (Babio N et al).

Fat in Olive Oil Can Help Revive Ailing Hearts

We’ve long known that a Mediterranean inspired diet rich in olive oil is associated with disease prevention, but recent studies are showing promise in disease treatment as well. In an animal study at the University of Illinois, either palmitate (the dietary fat found in animal fats, dairy, and palm oil) or oleate (the dietary fat found in olive oil) was delivered directly to beating rat hearts with heart failure. The palmitate treated hearts continued failing, with depressed fat metabolism and storage. On the other hand, the oleate treated hearts greatly improved, with restored fat content in cells, improved contraction, and normalized fat metabolism genes. In fact, after observing the hearts treated with oleate, the scientists declared that the fat content, turnover, and oxidation in the failing hearts “were indistinguishable from those of the healthy heart."
Circulation. 2014 September 29, pii [Epub ahead of print] (Lahey R et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Decreases Risk of Mouth Cancer

Diets high in fruits and vegetables have long been associated with a decreased risk of many cancers. In a recent European case controlled study, scientists investigated 2 years of self-reported dietary intakes of 768 people with incident cases of mouth cancer, and 2078 people with no history of mouth cancer. The food intakes were then evaluated for adherence to the Mediterranean Diet. After analyzing the data, researchers found strong evidence that those with the highest adherence to the Mediterranean Diet had the lowest risk for mouth cancer.
British Journal of Cancer. 2014 August 26;111(5):981-6 (Filomeno M. et al.)

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