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Cardiac Rehab Program: Med Diet Treats Metabolic Syndrome

People with any three of five common symptoms – high blood pressure, high blood sugar, large waist circumference, low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides – are said to have Metabolic Syndrome, a condition associated with many health risks, including diabetes and heart disease. Because Metabolic Syndrome usually leads to serious disease, researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School set out to design a lifestyle program to combat Metabolic Syndrome. 126 obese over-50 adults with Metabolic Syndrome followed a program consisting of 12 weekly ninety-minute sessions, evenly divided between exercise and nutrition education focusing on the Mediterranean Diet. At the end of the program, patients had lost on average 6.2kg (13.6 lbs), with significant reductions in waist circumference, body fat, blood pressure, triglycerides, and depression. About 20% of those finishing the program no longer had Metabolic Syndrome, and 42% had lost at least one symptom, thanks to the Med Diet and exercise.

Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention, July 4, 2011 [Epub ahead of print]

Olive Oil May Be Protective Against Strokes

Older people who consume plenty of olive oil may reduce their risk of stroke by as much as 41%. That’s the conclusion of researchers from the University of Bordeaux, who followed more than 7,000 people over the age of 65, in the French cities of Bordeaux, Dijon, and Montpelier, for more than five years. Compared to those who seldom or never used olive oil, those with the heaviest self-reported use of olive oil lowered their risk of suffering a stroke during the five-year duration of the study from 2.6% to 1.5% – a 41% drop.

Neurology, June 15, 2011 [Epub ahead of print]

Metabolic Syndrome Factors Improve with Med Diet

In a 12-week randomized trial, 89 women with Metabolic Syndrome were divided into two groups, one consuming a Mediterranean-style low-glycemic-load diet and the other receiving the same diet with the addition of a “medical food” containing phytosterols, soy protein, hops and acacia. At the end of the trial, researchers at the University of Connecticut noted that both groups had similar decreases in waist circumference, blood pressure and plasma triglycerides. Cholesterol levels also improved in both groups, though slightly more in the Med Diet + medical food group.

Journal of Clinical Lipidology, May-June 2011; 5(3):188-96. Epub 2011 Mar 11.

Med Diet Improves Health Markers of Kids with Type 1 Diabetes

Italian researchers at the University of Piemonte Orientale studied the diets of 96 children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes, before and after these young people and their families attended training with a dietitian on how to follow a traditional Mediterranean Diet. After six months, the children’s dietary lipids and cholesterol improved, while fiber consumption increased.
Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, May 27, 2011 [Epub ahead of print]

Olive Oil, Almonds or Walnuts? All of the Above!

Scientists in Barcelona and São Paulo conducted a crossover study to compare the effects of virgin olive oil, almonds, and walnuts in lowering cholesterol in subjects with high cholesterol levels. Subjects ate a healthy “run in” diet for four weeks first, to put all participants at a similar starting place. Then, each person spent 4 weeks on each of three diets: one enriched with virgin olive oil (VOO), one enriched with walnuts, and one with almonds. LDL (“bad”) cholesterol was reduced on average 7.3%, 10.8% and 13.4% after the VOO, walnut, and almond diets, respectively, with total cholesterol and LDL/HDL ratio improving similarly. Researchers concluded that all three of these healthy foods contribute to the heart-health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet.

Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, March 19, 2011 [Epub ahead of print]

Med Diet Reduces Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

To assess the Mediterranean Diet’s effect on metabolic syndrome, scientists in Greece and Italy conducted a meta-analysis of 50 peer-reviewed Med Diet studies (including 35 clinical trials) involving more than half a million people. Metabolic Syndrome is considered to be present if someone has three or more of the following: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, large waist circumference, low HDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides. The researchers found that the Med Diet improved all five risk factors, and overall reduced the risk of Metabolic Syndrome. They concluded that “this dietary pattern can be easily adopted by all population groups and various cultures, and cost-effectively serve for primary and secondary prevention of Metabolic Syndrome and its individual components.”

Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 15 March 2011; 57:1299-1313.

High-Phenolic Olive Oil Protects Arteries Best

Oxidized LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad cholesterol”) has been shown to increase the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Oxidized LDL antibodies (OLAB) have been shown, in studies, to protect against atherosclerosis. Scientists in five European countries working as part of the EUROLIVE Study Group designed a crossover study to see whether higher polyphenol levels in different olive olis would generate more OLABs. 200 healthy men were randomly assigned to consume, in three week stints, 25mL a day (just under two tablespoons) of each of three olive oils with high, medium, and low phenolic content. The researchers found that the protective OLABs increased in direct relationship to the phenolic content of the olive oils.

Clinical Nutrition, March 3, 2011 [Epub ahead of print]

MUFAs are Protective Against Heart Disease and Metabolic Syndrome

Our understanding of the role of fats in our diet is shifting from a focus on the total quantity of fat to one emphasizing the quality of fats. Scientists at the University of Manitoba carried out a thorough review of research detailing the association of mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) with cardiovascular disease and with metabolic syndrome. They concluded that MUFAs are cardioprotective and reduce the risk of obesity, particularly when they are substituted for saturated fats.
Lipids, February 10, 2011 [Epub ahead of print]

Omega-3s in Med Diet Protect Brain Health

Consistent research shows that the Med Diet helps us keep our wits about us as we age. But what explains this connection? A new French study of 1050 elderly subjects showed a strong correlation between adherence to the Med Diet and higher blood levels of healthy fats. In conclusion, the scientists credited the better cognitive function of those eating the Med way to higher levels of DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) and lower ratios of omega-6s to omega-3s.
British Journal of Nutrition, February 2011. 8:1-10 [Epub ahead of print]

Brain MRIs show Less Disease with Med Diet

Scientists at the Taub Institute for Research in Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain (at U.C. Davis) collected high-resolution MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) data on the brains of 707 elderly New Yorkers. They then studied dietary assessments of these people from the past 5.8 years (on average), and divided the participants into three groups according to Mediterranean Diet adherence. They found that participants in the top-adherence group had 36% less evidence of cerebrovascular disease, and those in the middle group had 22% reduced odds, and concluded that “higher adherence to the Mediteranean Diet is associated with reduced cerbrovascular disease burden.”

Annals of Neurology, February 2011; 69(2): 257-68

Med Diet May Lessen Harm from Smoking

Researchers in Greece and the Netherlands collaborated to test whether adherence to the Med Diet could mitigate any of the dangers of smoking – include the harm from second-hand smoke. Based on a review of both epidemiological and lab studies showing the Mediterranean Diets protective effect against biochemical and molecular processes that lead to cancer, the scientists concluded that that the Med Diet might lessen the ravages caused by smoking. This could be especially useful to those who are the potential victims of passive smoking. 

Public Health, January 27, 2011 [Epub ahead of print]

Mediterranean Diet for Pregnant Moms Reduces Babies’ Wheezing

At the University of Edinburgh, researchers did a systematic review of 62 studies to determine how the diet of pregnant women may affect asthma and allergies in their babies.  The strongest connection found was between the Mediterranean Diet and asthma: babies whose mothers followed the Med Diet had a nearly 80% lower risk of wheezing. Vitamins A, D and E were also associated with reduced risk of asthma.

Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Dec. 23, 2010 [Epub ahead of print]

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