In a recent study, scientists compared the effects of a Mediterranean diet with that of a low-fat diet on key biological processes related to heart health.
The researchers found that a Mediterranean diet can improve endothelial function in people with coronary artery disease.
The endothelium is a thin membrane that covers the inside of the blood vessels and the heart. It plays a number of roles that are important for the functioning of the cardiovascular system.
The latest research, summarized in the journal PLOS Medicine, can help doctors provide nutritional advice to people with coronary artery disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that heart disease is the leading cause of death in about 1 in 4 deaths in the United States.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking increase the chances of developing heart disease, and the disease increases the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack, arrhythmia, or heart failure.
Changing your diet is an important way to reduce your risk of heart disease.
For many years, researchers have shown the benefits of a Mediterranean diet for heart health. It contains olive oil, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fruits, and whole grains with small amounts of dairy and meat, and a moderate amount of fish and red wine.
Health experts, including the American Heart Association (AHA), have also linked low-fat diets with improvements in heart health. This type of diet contains reduced amounts of all types of fat and increased amounts of complex carbohydrates.
The team behind the present study set out to test the effects of any type of diet on the endothelium, since endothelial dysfunction is a predictor of cardiovascular disease.
According to Prof. José López-Miranda, the corresponding author of the study and coordinator of the research group Nutritional Genomics and Metabolic Syndrome at the Maimonides Biomedical Research Institute in Córdoba, Spain:
“The degree of endothelial damage predicts the occurrence of future cardiovascular events such as acute myocardial infarction.”
“If we can take steps to regenerate the endothelium and improve endothelial function in the early stages, we can help prevent heart attacks and heart disease from recurring.”
To determine the potential benefits of a Mediterranean diet compared to a low-fat diet for endothelial dysfunction, the researchers analyzed data obtained from the study on Coronary Diet Intervention and Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, an ongoing randomized, single-blind, controlled trial , were collected.
The study included 1,002 people with coronary artery disease who had no coronary event in the previous 6 months.
Researchers used flow-mediated dilation to determine the base level of endothelial dysfunction among the participants. They then divided the participants into two groups: one followed a Mediterranean diet for 1 year and the other followed a low-fat diet for 1 year.
At the end of the year, the team again measured the endothelial function of the participants. A total of 805 participants completed the study.
Compared to the low-fat diet, the Mediterranean diet significantly improved the participants’ endothelial function – no matter how severe the dysfunction was.
Prof. López-Miranda explains: “We have observed that the Mediterranean nutritional model induces better endothelial function, which means that the arteries can adapt more flexibly to different situations in which greater blood flow is required.”
In addition, the researcher noted, “The ability of the endothelium to regenerate was better and we saw a dramatic reduction in endothelial damage, even in patients at high risk.”
The researchers also found that the Mediterranean diet resulted in improved high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and reductions in fasting glucose and C-reactive protein in participants compared to the low-fat diet.
They suggest that these factors may contribute to the beneficial effects of the Mediterranean diet on endothelial function.
The results suggest that switching to a Mediterranean diet could help reduce the known risk of endothelial damage, coronary heart disease, and future coronary events.