Mediterranean diet lowers CVD and dementia risk

3 minute read

The diet’s legendary health status has been reinforced with even more possible benefits found.

We all know that the Mediterranean diet improves overall health and your chance of living longer. Now two new studies show that it not only helps prevent heart disease in women, but it may also lower the risk of dementia. 

A University of Sydney meta-analysis involving over 720,000 women found that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 25% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease over a 12-year period.  

“Women with a high adherence versus a low adherence to a Mediterranean diet had a 24% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 23% lower risk of total mortality,” they said.  

Their risk of stroke was 13% lower, but that was not statistically significant, the researchers wrote in Heart.  

The researchers said the diet included lots of vegetables, fruit, legumes, wholegrains and healthy oils, moderate amounts of fish and seafood, and small amounts of red meat, dairy and animal fat.   

Components of the Mediterranean diet contributed to better cardiovascular health, but the sex-specific effects of the diet on cardiovascular risk was unclear, they said. 

“It is possible that preventative measures, such as a Mediterranean diet, that targets inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk factors, impose differing effects in women compared with men.” 

A Mediterranean diet is known for its heart health benefits, but most studies and research into diet and heart disease are done primarily in men, said lead author and PhD candidate Anushriya Pant, who is researching the effect of lifestyle on cardiovascular disease in women. 

“Now we have confirmed that similar benefits apply for women’s dietary guidelines, and this reflects the strength of the Mediterranean diet for good heart health,” Ms Pant said. 

The findings come as an international study of more than 60,000 people found that high adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 23% lower risk of developing dementia after nine years compared to people who did not follow this diet. That was equivalent to an absolute risk of 1.73% among people with low adherence to 1.18% among those with high adherence.  

Reported in BMC Medicine, the study found people with a higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet were more likely to be female, have a higher education level, have a BMI under 25 and be more physically active than those with lower adherence.  

However, the figures accounted for age, sex, socioeconomic status, education, physical activity and smoking.  

“Whilst diet may be an important tractable risk factor for dementia, it is not emphasised in all dementia prevention guidelines … which may reflect the lack of consistent evidence about the dietary patterns that are associated with lower dementia risk,” the study authors said. 

There was no evidence that diet interacted with the genetic risk of dementia, they added.  

“These results underline the importance of dietary interventions in future dementia prevention strategies regardless of genetic predisposition,” they said.  

Heart 2023, online 14 March 

BMC Medicine 2023, online 14 March 

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