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Switching to Whole Grains Can Improve Cholesterol, Blood Sugar Control, and Inflammation

Randomized controlled trials are the “gold standard” of nutrition research as they can be used to establish cause and effect. In this article, researchers analyzed more than 20 randomized controlled trials to see how replacing refined grains with whole grains can impact health. They found that for adults both with and without risk factors of heart disease, substituting whole grains for refined can improve total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, hemoglobin A1c (a measure of blood sugar control), and C-reactive protein (a measure of inflammation). 
Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2020 Nov;120(11):1859-1883.e31. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2020.06.021. (Marshall S et al.)

Whole Wheat Promotes Resilience in Liver, Protects Against Higher Inflammation

Health not only implies being free of disease; health also takes into account how well we adapt to the stresses of everyday life, and the inevitable wear-and-tear on our bodies – in other words, resilience. To see how whole wheat might impact inflammation and resilience, 50 overweight and obese adults were randomly assigned to either 98 grams of whole wheat per day (from bread and cereal) or 98 grams of refined wheat per day for 12 weeks. Scientists then measured markers of inflammation and liver health and used modeling (the “health space” approach) to determine how resilient their bodies were to external stressors based on these findings. In this experiment, whole wheat was shown to protect against higher inflammation, and was also shown to promote resilience in the liver. 
Journal of Nutrition. 2019 Aug 27. pii: nxz177. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxz177. (Hoevenaars FPM et al.)

Tomato Sofrito Linked with Lower Inflammation

Sofrito is a sauce of tomatoes, onion, and olive oil, commonly eaten in Mediterranean cuisine. In a recent study, researchers investigated to potential health benefits of this sauce. A group of 22 healthy men were fed sofrito after following a low-antioxidant and tomato-free diet; blood and urine samples were taken before and after eating the sofrito. The researchers found a significant increase in the amount of carotenoids and polyphenols (healthy compounds with antioxidant properties) in the 24 hours after eating the sofrito; they also found that inflammation was significantly lower following the intervention. This result suggests that consumption of sofrito, a staple of the Mediterranean diet, may have anti-inflammatory health benefits.
Nutrients.  2019 Apr 15;11(4). pii: E851. doi: 10.3390/nu11040851. (Hurtado-Barroso S, et al.)

Combining Statins with Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Death from Heart Disease

Statins are a type of cholesterol lowering medication often prescribed to patients with heart disease. To see how diet might impact the effectiveness of statins, researchers analyzed the eating habits and health outcomes of 1,180 older adults with heart disease for 8 years. Those most closely following a Mediterranean Diet were 30% less likely to die from heart disease over the study period. However, statins only reduced heart disease death risk when taken in combination with the Mediterranean diet. Furthermore, the patients taking statins in combination with a Mediterranean diet had a 50% lower risk of dying of heart disease than those just using one approach (diet or medicine). The researchers suspect that this synergistic effect may be due to the anti-inflammatory effects of the Mediterranean Diet. 
International Journal of Cardiology.  2019 Feb 1;276:248-254. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2018.11.117. (Bonaccio M et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with ¼ Lower Heart Disease Risk in Women

The Mediterranean diet is closely linked with heart health, and researchers want to learn more about the underlying mechanisms behind this connection. In this study researchers analyzed the diet and health outcomes of 25,994 women for 12 years. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were 28% less likely to develop heart disease than those not following a Mediterranean diet. Even those who were only moderately following a Mediterranean diet had a 23% lower risk of heart disease, indicating that even small lifestyle changes can have a meaningful impact on health. The researchers suspect that part of the heart health benefits may be related to lower inflammation, as women most closely following the Mediterranean diet had significantly lower levels of biomarkers of inflammation. Other factors shown to affect the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and heart health are the Mediterranean diet’s links to blood sugar management, BMI, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
JAMA Network Open. 2018 Dec 7;1(8):e185708. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.5708 (Ahmad S et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Better Health in People with Type 2 Diabetes

The positive effects of the Mediterranean Diet are well-known, but more research is needed on the effects of the diet in people with type 2 diabetes. In this study, researchers looked at the diets of over 2,000 people with type 2 diabetes. Those who more closely followed the Mediterranean Diet had lower BMIs, blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides), blood pressure, inflammation, and better blood sugar control than those who did not. Researchers also found that each part of the Mediterranean Diet provided different benefits- eating more fish was associated with lower triglycerides while eating more vegetables was associated with better blood pressure. In other words, the overall Mediterranean Diet pattern is greater than the sum of its parts, and following the Mediterranean Diet may offer big benefits to people with type 2 diabetes.
Nutrients. 2018 Aug 10;10(8). pii: E1067. doi: 10.3390/nu10081067. (Vitale M et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Less Severe Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an inflammatory disease that causes itchy rashes on the skin. Since the Mediterranean diet has been known to lower inflammation, researchers wonder whether it may also help with psoriasis. In an online survey, researchers analyzed the eating habits of 35,735 French adults, and also surveyed them about psoriasis. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were 22-29% less likely to report having severe psoriasis than those not following a Mediterranean diet. The researchers concluded that “the Mediterranean diet may slow the progression of psoriasis.”
JAMA Dermatology. 2018 Jul 25. [Epub ahead of print.] (Phan C et al.)

Suggested Mechanisms Behind the Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

While the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are well-known, the precise mechanisms behind these benefits are unclear. In this review, researchers identified 5 mechanisms which may explain the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Due to the high consumption of healthy fats and fiber, the Mediterranean diet improves cholesterol and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. The Mediterranean diet is naturally high in antioxidants, which can help decrease the inflammation associated with heart disease, cancer, and dementia. The Mediterranean diet is also naturally lower in calories but higher in vitamins and minerals than the typical western diet, which may lower the production of hormones and growth factors that are involved in the development of cancer. The emphasis of plant proteins over animal proteins in the Mediterranean diet may help explain why this diet is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Finally, researchers found that the high fiber content of the Mediterranean diet promotes the growth and diversity of good bacteria in the gut.
Journals of Gerontology: Biological Sciences. 2018 Mar 2;73(3):318-326. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glx227. (Tosti, V. et al)

Whole Grains Linked with Weight Loss, Less Inflammation

Why worry about calorie counting when whole grains can keep you satiated and help you lose weight? Researchers randomly assigned 50 Danish adults to a whole grain or refined grain diet for 8 weeks each, with a 6-week washout period in between. All of the participants were overweight, obese or had large waist sizes, and also had slightly high levels of blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure before the study. The participants lost significantly more weight on the whole grain diet (- 0.4 pounds) compared to the refined grain diet (+ 2 pounds). This is likely because people naturally ate fewer calories on the whole grain diet, as whole grains are more satiating. Additionally, the whole grain diet (especially rye foods) significantly lowered inflammation (measured by IL-6 and CRP). However, the researchers noted no significant changes in insulin sensitivity (an indicator of how well your body is able to manage blood sugar), or the gut microbiome over the 8-week study.
Gut. 2017 Nov 1. pii: gutjnl-2017-314786. [Epub ahead of print.] (Roager HM et al.)  

Mediterranean Diet May Slow Down Aging

For the past 5 years European researchers have been conducting a study to see how following the Mediterranean diet affects aging among older adults. The study (known as the NU-AGE consortium) recently ended and the preliminary findings are impressive. Following a Mediterranean diet was linked not only with significantly improved inflammatory markers in the body (which are linked to the aging process), but also with reduced bone loss in people with osteoporosis. A more in-depth analysis of the study is expected to yield further support that following a Mediterranean diet is highly beneficial to our health.
Presentation at the NU-AGE Final Conference. Brussels, Belgium. April 5, 2016.

Traditional Mexican Diet Linked with Better Inflammation, Blood Sugar Control

Researchers in Seattle created a Mexican Diet Score to assess how traditional Mexican diets are related to insulin resistance and inflammation. Higher Mexican Diet Scores indicate eating more traditional Mexican foods, such as corn tortillas, beans, soup, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and Mexican cheese, and lower levels of added sugars, refined grains, and added fats. In a study of nearly 500 healthy, post-menopausal women of Mexican descent, the researchers found that those most closely following a traditional Mexican diet had 23% lower levels of hsCRP (a measure of inflammation), and 15% lower insulin levels (indicating healthy blood sugar regulation) than those not following a traditional Mexican diet. In the overweight and obese women, a low Mexican diet score was also linked with higher insulin resistance. The researchers concluded that “greater adherence to traditional Mexican diets… could be beneficial in reducing the risk of obesity-related systemic inflammation and insulin resistance for women of Mexican descent.”
The Journal of Nutrition. 2015 Dec;145(12):2732-40. (Santiago-Torres M 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.)

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