A new review of studies suggests that the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of death from heart attack and stroke in at-risk patients. Current guidelines for patients at high risk of heart disease recommend several dietary programs, but they generally rely on low-certainty evidence. The new study, conducted by researchers from the University of Manitoba in Canada and published in The BMJ, compared seven popular dietary programs, including those with or without exercise and other health behaviour support, based on randomized trials.
The researchers assessed databases for randomized trials looking at the impact of various dietary programs for preventing death and major heart events in patients at higher risk of cardiovascular disease. They identified 40 eligible trials involving over 35,500 participants who were followed for an average of three years across seven named dietary programs. These included low-fat dietary programs, Mediterranean, very low fat, modified fat, combined low fat and low sodium.
The study found that Mediterranean dietary programs were better than minimal intervention at preventing all-cause mortality, non-fatal heart attack, and stroke for patients at intermediate risk of cardiovascular disease. Low-fat programs were also found to be superior to minimal intervention with moderate certainty for the prevention of all-cause mortality and non-fatal heart attack. Both these dietary programs were found to have more pronounced positive effects for patients at high risk of heart disease, while the other dietary programs generally had little or no benefit compared with minimal intervention.
The researchers cited some limitations of the study, such as the inability to measure the participant’s adherence to the dietary programs and the possibility that some of the benefits may have come from other elements within the programs like cessation of smoking. However, they concluded that the review is based on a thorough literature search, and Mediterranean and low-fat dietary programs “probably reduce the risk of mortality and non-fatal myocardial infarction in people at increased cardiovascular risk.”
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional dietary patterns of Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain. It is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil, and includes moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and dairy, while limiting red meat, processed foods, and added sugars. The diet has been associated with numerous health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, weight management, and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings of this review add to the growing body of evidence supporting the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. While the review did not measure adherence to the diet, previous studies have shown that adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with greater health benefits. Therefore, encouraging patients to follow a Mediterranean-style diet may be an effective way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve overall health outcomes.
In conclusion, this study provides evidence that the Mediterranean diet and low-fat dietary programs are effective in reducing the risk of mortality and non-fatal myocardial infarction in people at increased cardiovascular risk. Patients at risk of heart disease should consider adopting a Mediterranean-style diet and limiting red meat, processed foods, and added sugars. Healthcare professionals can play a crucial role in educating patients about the benefits of a healthy diet and supporting them in making dietary changes that can lead to better health outcomes.