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New UK study finds the Mediterranean diet could be a big life-saver

29 Sep 2016

By Diane Fresquez LONDON - If everybody in Britain followed the traditional Mediterranean diet, 19,375 cases of cardiovascular death could be prevented each year, a new study suggests. The publication 29 September 2016 in the BMC Medicine scientific journal examines the link between living on a low-meat, high-vegetable Mediterranean diet with the odds of getting cardiovascular disease.

The study, in Norfolk, followed 23,902 participants during 12.2 years on average, and showed a significant beneficial effect of the Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular events - the first study of its kind in the UK. In all, it estimated that being on the Med diet could have reduced the incidence of cardiovascular disease in the group by 3.9 per cent, stroke by 8.5 per cent, and fatal heart disease by 12.5 per cent.

“The findings indicate that adherence to the Mediterranean diet may contribute to a strategy for the primary prevention of CVD in the UK,” the researchers concluded.

The study, by a group of University of Cambridge researchers including Tammy Y. N. Tong, adds to a mounting body of evidence that the Med diet is healthful. Another researcher in the field, Miguel Martínez-González of the University of Navarra who is leading a separate study funded by the European Research Council, called the British research superb. Said Martínez-González:

“The huge toll of death and disability caused each year by cardiovascular disease continues to represent a great humiliation for public health. “More people die annually from CVDs than from any other cause, and global projections are sombre with a projected increase from 17 million to more than 24 million yearly CVD deaths in 2030. Not a minor part of this humiliation comes from the knowledge that CVD could have been largely prevented by timely population changes in metabolic risk factors including obesity, hypertension, dyslipidaemia and diabetes,” Martínez-González said. His own research is described in the latest report on ERC-funded food research, on www.sciencesquared.eu.

The UK researchers defined the Mediterranean diet is traditional fare in regions such as Crete, other parts of Greece and Southern Italy, and it’s typically high in fruits and vegetables, legumes and olive oil, and low in red meats. Although studies on the potential cardiovascular benefits of the diet have been published in both Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean countries, the evidence from non-Mediterranean regions is less consistent.

A Swedish study observed that high adherence to the Med diet was associated with lower cardiovascular mortality only among women; and in an Australian study, it was observed only among men. But the results of the UK study, called EPIC-Norfolk study, provides one of the clearest signals yet that the diet could have benefits for all.

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