A Mediterranean diet is better than statins at lowering the risk of an early death from heart disease for millions of people, said some of the world’s leading heart experts. A global heart disease conference in Rome concluded that patients should be prescribed the diet – which includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, legumes, whole grains and nuts – before being prescribed statins.
Speaking at a global heart disease conference in Rome, Italian expert, Professor Giovanni de Gaetano, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the IRCCS Neuromed Institute in Italy, explained that so far research has focused on the general population, which is mainly composed of healthy people. The study sought to find out what happens to people who have already suffered from cardiovascular disease. Is the Mediterranean diet optimal for them as well?
For the study, the researchers looked at 1,200 Italians with a history of heart disease over a period of seven years. They found that those who adhered more closely to a Mediterranean diet were less likely to be among the 208 people who died during the course of the study. In fact, he researchers found that people who ate a mostly Mediterranean diet had a 37 percent less chance of dying during the study period.
Mediterranean diet: Supplemental to statins?
Statins are popular worldwide and several studies have shown they can lower cholesterol levels, thereby reducing the likelihood of major heart problems. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 28 percent of Americans over 40 were taking some kind of statin when surveyed in 2011 and 2012.
Experts hailed the new findings as “extraordinary”, showing that diet was “more powerful than any drug”. High consumption of vegetables had the greatest impact on survival, followed by oily fish intake, amount of fruit eaten and consumption of mono-unsaturated fat, found in olive oil.
“This study suggests that even if you are already receiving medical care, if you add a Mediterranean diet, it will have further benefit,” said Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, in an interview with the Telegraph. “Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, even if you have had a heart attack or stroke is really important and continues to benefit you.”
Israel: Land of vegetable lovers
Israel sits in the Mediterranean crescent, a region praised for its diet rich in vegetables, fish and unsaturated fat. In a study published last year which examined the eating habits of residents of of 187 countries, Israelis were found to have the ninth most healthy diet in the world.