Health Studies

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.).

Short Term Benefits of Plant-Based Diets on Nutrient Intake and Inflammation

In a study of 63 overweight and obese adults instructed on various diets, South Carolina researchers examined the differences in nutrient intake and Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII). After two months, those assigned to vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian diets had significantly lower DII scores and greater improvements in fiber, carbohydrate, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. However, after six months, no differences were seen among the diets. Due to these short-term benefits, the researchers concluded that greater consideration should be given to “finding ways to provide support for adoption and maintenance of plant-based dietary approaches.”
Nutrition Research. 2014 Dec 3. Pii:S0271-5317(14)00267-X. (Turner-McGrievy GM 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.)

Vegetarian Diet Helps Diabetics Control Blood Sugar

Think a meat-centric diet is the best way to keep your blood sugar in check? Think again! Researchers in the United States and Japan reviewed studies that investigated the relationship between vegetarian diets and blood sugar control in people with type two diabetes. Analyzing data from the 255 adults included in the studies, scientists reported that a plant-based vegetarian diet helps adults with type 2 diabetes improve glycemic control, lower cholesterol intake by 173mg, and trim about 140 calories from their diets each day.  
Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy. 2014 Oct;4(5):373-382. (Yokoyama 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.)

Traditional Latin American Diet May Help Explain the Hispanic Paradox

Studies show that Hispanics live longer and have lower rates of heart disease than Non Hispanic Whites, despite a higher prevalence of risk factors for heart disease and mortality. This phenomenon has been dubbed the “Hispanic Paradox.” In a recent journal article, researchers suggest that the traditional Latin American diet may be a possible explanation for this relationship. Compared to the general U.S. population, Hispanics eat more legumes and fruit, foods known for their antioxidant activity and heart healthy properties. According to the researchers, another lifestyle factor that may have a protective effect on health is the high level of social and familial support in the Latin American culture.  
Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. 2014 September 4. Pii: S0033-0620(14)00133-9. [Epub ahead of print]

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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