Health Studies

Eating Fish May Prevent Depression

Fish is well known for its place in many of the healthiest diets around the world. To determine the link between eating fish and depression risk, Chinese scientists reviewed 26 studies of over 150,000 people. The researchers concluded that “high fish consumption can reduce the risk of depression.”  
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2015 Sep 10. pii: jech-2015-206278. [Epub ahead of print.] (Li Fu et al.)

Lower Birth Defects Linked with Moms Who Eat Healthy Med Diets

Congenital heart defects (heart problems that occur before birth) affect nearly 1% of newborns in America. In a study of over 19,000 American women, researchers compared mothers of babies with congenital heart defects to mothers of babies without this condition. Scientists analyzed the mothers’ diets in the year before pregnancy using both the Mediterranean Diet Score and the Diet Quality Index for Pregnancy. Babies whose moms’ diets ranked healthy on both scores were significantly less likely to suffer from certain specific subgroups of congenital heart defects, such as tetralogy of Fallot (a defect in heart structure which causes oxygen poor blood to flow throughout the body), but not all heart defects. The relationship between diet and congenital heart defects was stronger with the Diet Quality Index for Pregnancy than with the Mediterranean Diet.
Archives of Disease in Childhood. Fetal and Neonatal Edition. 2015 August 24. pii: fetalneonatal-2014-308013. [Epub ahead of print.] (Botto LD et al.) 

Switching to Mediterranean Fat Sources May Help Inflammation

Palmitic acid (found in palm oil, shortening, butter, and red meat) is a type of saturated fat prevalent in the Western diet, while oleic acid (found in olive oil) is a type of monounsaturated fat prevalent in the Mediterranean diet. In a small study, researchers at the University of Vermont fed 16 adults either a diet high in palmitic acid or a diet high in oleic acid and low in palmitic acid to see how food choices affect the inflammatory response of various cells. All adults spent 3 weeks in each diet group, serving as their own control.  Although insulin sensitivity was not affected in this experiment, the scientists found that changing the diet to include more oleic acid and less palmitic acid was able to lower activation of certain cell signaling proteins (including TLR4 and NLRP3) that are associated with inflammation, oxidation and poor insulin signaling. These results suggest that shifting from a Western diet to a Mediterranean style diet (with greater proportions of oleic acid) may help fight inflammation.
Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2015 Aug 1. pii: S0955-2863(15)00178-3. (Kien CL et al.)

Mediterranean Meals with Olive Oil Can Improve Blood Sugar Control, Cholesterol

In a small Italian study, researchers assigned 25 healthy adults to a Mediterranean meal (pasta, chicken breast, salad, bread, and an apple) prepared either with or without olive oil, then measured their cholesterol and blood sugar. After 30 days, the participants switched groups and ate the other meal, serving as their own control. The scientists found that 2 hours after eating, the meal without olive oil was associated with higher glucose and insulin levels, as well as higher “bad cholesterol” (LDL-C). In the second part of the experiment, the participants were assigned to a Mediterranean meal prepared with either olive oil or corn oil, switching groups after a 30 day washout period. Their blood sugar and cholesterol was tested after the meals as well. Two hours after eating, the meals with olive oil were associated with a lower increase in blood sugar and improved markers of blood sugar control (such as lower DPP, and higher GLP1 & GIP), as well as a smaller increase in “bad cholesterol” (LDL-C and oxidized LDL). These experiments indicate that meals with olive oil can help regulate blood sugar, and may help improve cholesterol.
Nutrition & Diabetes. 2015 July 20;5:e172. [Epub ahead of print.] (Violi F et al.)

Med Diet Can Preserve Brain Structure, Delay Cognitive Aging

The link between healthy aging and the Mediterranean diet is well established, but emerging research sheds new light onto this mechanism. Scientists analyzed the eating patterns and brain scans of 146 French adults (average age 73). They found that the brain structure (white matter) of those most closely following the Mediterranean diet was significantly more preserved 9 years later than those who didn’t follow a Mediterranean diet. To put this in perspective, the researchers concluded that “higher adherence to the [Mediterranean Diet] appeared to delay cognitive aging by up to 10 years.”
Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2015 July 16. (Pelletier A et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

Med Diet Cuts Risk of Womb Cancer by Half

Endometrial cancer, also known as womb cancer, is largely determined by hormone levels in the body. However, new research shows that diet can play an important role in prevention. Combining the results of three large studies, Italian researchers analyzed the eating patterns of over 5,000 women in Europe (1411 with endometrial cancer, and 3668 controls) for their adherence to the Mediterranean diet. Those most closely following the Mediterranean diet were over 50% less likely to develop endometrial cancer than those with the lowest adherence to the Mediterranean diet. Additionally, researchers found that “the Mediterranean diet as a whole is a stronger determinant of endometrial cancer risk than the single dietary components,” emphasizing the importance of overall diet.
British Journal of Cancer. 2015 May 26;112(11):1816-21. (Filomeno et al.) 

Peanut and Nut Intake May Lower Death from Heart Disease

Nuts have long been associated with longevity, and new research in diverse populations further supports this relationship. Researchers tracked peanut and nut intake of about 206,000 people in the US (low income blacks and whites) and China for over 5 years. High nut intake was associated with a 21% lower risk of death from all causes among the US participants, and a 17% lower risk in the Chinese participants. High nut and peanut intake was also associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease, especially in ischemic heart disease (the type of heart disease caused by narrowed arteries).
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 May;175(5):755-66. (Luu HN, et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Can Improve Cognitive Function

The Mediterranean diet has long been studied for its role in heart health and aging, but emerging research suggests that it may also be protective for brain health. In a follow up to the PREDIMED study (where Spanish adults at risk for heart disease were randomly assigned to either a Mediterranean diet with four tablespoons of olive oil daily, a Mediterranean diet with one ounce of nuts daily, or a low fat controlled diet) researchers analyzed the relationship between diet and cognitive function. Of the 334 participants in this study with data on cognitive function, the scientists found that overall brain function significantly improved for both Mediterranean groups over the 4-year experiment, compared with the control group. Specifically, the nuts group significantly improved on tests of memory, while the olive oil group significantly improved on tests of reasoning, planning, and problem solving. This adds to the growing body of research that the Mediterranean diet is an important factor in healthy aging.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 May 11. [Epub ahead of print] (Valls-Pedret C et al.) 

Leafy Greens Can Keep Your Brain Young

It is no secret that green vegetables are some of the healthiest foods for our bodies, but new research shows that they are also good for our brains. Researchers in Chicago and Boston analyzed the eating patterns and cognitive abilities of over 950 older adults for an average of five years. The scientists found a significant decrease in the rate of cognitive decline for people who ate more green leafy vegetables (like spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens). In fact, people who ate just one to two servings of leafy greens per day had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those who ate none.

Presentation at the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology. Boston MA. March 30, 2015.

Cheese Linked with Positive Microbiome Changes & Markers of Disease Prevention

Dairy foods are most often prized for their calcium content, but new research reveals that changes to the gut microbiome, especially from eating fermented dairy products, like cheese, might help explain the “French Paradox,” the phenomenon in which traditional cheeses are linked with low rates of heart disease. In a small study to investigate the protective effect of dairy foods, Danish scientists randomly assigned 15 healthy men to one of three diets for two weeks: a diet with lots of partly skim (1.5%) milk, a diet with lots of semi-hard cow’s cheese, or a control diet with butter, but no other dairy products. Both the milk and cheese diets had the same amount of calcium per day (1.7g). The men rotated through each diet, with a two-week washout period in between each new diet group. Compared to the control diet, both the cheese and milk diets were associated with significantly lower production of TMAO, a compound that is thought to be a marker of heart disease risk. The researchers also found that “dairy consumption, especially cheese, can beneficially modify the gut microbiota to increase SFCA levels.” SFCAs (short chain fatty acids) are compounds produced by gut bacteria that are linked with many health promoting effects, such as lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and inflammatory diseases.  
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2015 Mar 18;63(10):2830-9 (Zheng H et al).

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