An article published online on October 30, 2013 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports a protective effect for the Mediterranean diet against the risk of premature death from all causes in cardiovascular disease patients. The diet, which is characterized by a relatively high amount of fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish and monounsaturated fatty acids, and a lower intake of sugar, refined carbohydrates and starches, and meat products, has been associated with several long-term benefits, including protection against cardiovascular disease, however, its effects in individuals with established disease had not been well studied.
These results are of interest because they show that a healthy diet can still be beneficial at an advanced stage of the atherosclerotic process and that following a Mediterranean-style diet pattern may be of benefit for populations outside the Mediterranean area.
The current study included 6,137 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study initiated in 1986 and 11,278 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study established in 1976. Subjects in the current study were limited to those who had experienced a nonfatal cardiovascular event, including heart attack, stroke, angina, or coronary bypass or angioplasty. Dietary questionnaire responses provided by the participants in 1980, 1984, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 were used to score adherence to the Mediterranean diet.
“A Mediterranean-style diet pattern was associated with a reduced risk of mortality in men and women with cardiovascular disease,” the authors conclude. “These results support the adoption of a Mediterranean-style diet in patients with cardiovascular disease to prevent premature death.”
Over a median follow-up period of 7.7 years, 1,982 deaths occurred among the men. Among the women, 1,468 deaths occurred over a 5.8 year median. Pooled analysis of the subjects revealed a 19% lower risk of death from any cause among those whose adherence to the Mediterranean diet was among the top one-fifth of participants in comparison with those whose adherence was among the lowest fifth. Among those in the top fifth, the risk of dying from cancer or heart disease was 15% lower than those whose diet adherence was lowest, and the risk of death from other causes was 21% less than the risk experienced by those in the lowest group.