Mediterranean Diet Might Be Good for Arteries

Mediterranean diet reduced peripheral artery disease risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Could consuming the healthy fats, fish and perhaps even red wine of the Mediterranean diet help prevent a certain artery disease? Maybe so, according to a new study.

This Spanish study followed older adults who consumed either a Mediterranean diet or a low-fat diet for several years.

The researchers found that participants who followed a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of developing peripheral artery disease.

"Eat a balanced diet with a variety of nutrients."

A Mediterranean diet typically emphasizes plant-based foods, fish and healthy fats from olive oil and nuts while limiting red meat.

According to this study's authors, who were led by Miguel Ruiz-Canela, PhD, of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, a Mediterranean diet has been linked to a lower risk of certain cardiovascular conditions like stroke, but its effect on peripheral artery disease (PAD) had not previously been explored.

In PAD, the arteries that carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body, such as the limbs (often the legs), head and organs, begin to develop plaque. According to the US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, overtime, this buildup of plaque can begin to narrow the arteries and restrict blood flow.

"The role of nutrition in preventing peripheral artery disease (PAD) remains elusive," wrote Dr. Ruiz-Canela and colleagues.

To explore a potential connection, these researchers utilized data from the Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea (PREDIMED) study, which was carried out from October 2003 to December 2010 in Spain.

The participants included men between the ages of 55 and 80 and women between the ages of 60 and 80. None of the 7,436 participants had PAD or heart disease at the study's start, but the participants did have some risk factors for heart disease, such as type 2 diabetes.

These participants were randomly divided into three groups. One group followed a Mediterranean diet that included the supplementation of extra-virgin olive oil, one followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts, and one group received counseling on how to follow a low-fat diet.

The participants all went through a dietary educational program four times a year.

After an average of 4.8 years of follow-up, 89 PAD cases were identified.

Participants in both Mediterranean diet groups had a lower risk of PAD than their peers in the low-fat diet group.

Of the 2,539 participants in the Mediterranean diet group with extra olive oil, 18 participants (0.7 percent) developed PAD. The researchers noted that this accounted for a rate of 1.5 PAD cases per 1,000 person-years of follow-up.

Of the 2,452 participants in the Mediterranean diet group with supplemented nuts, 26 participants (1.06 percent) developed PAD, accounting for a rate of 2.5 PAD cases per 1,000 person-years of follow-up.

Of the 2,444 participants in the low-fat diet group, 45 participants (1.84 percent) developed PAD, accounting for a rate of 4.7 PAD cases per 1,000 person-years of follow-up.

"To our knowledge, this is the first randomized primary prevention trial to suggest an association between a dietary intervention and PAD," wrote Dr. Ruiz-Canela and colleagues. "These results are consistent with previous observational studies and relevant from a public health perspective."

The authors of this study noted that the instances of PAD overall were low, so further research is needed to confirm these findings.

In an interview with dailyRx News, Deborah Gordon, MD, a nutrition expert based in Ashland, Oregon, said she is also looking forward to future research exploring the Mediterranean diet, especially in comparison to another diet she often recommends, the Paleo diet.

"Both groups agree that processed foods need to be drastically if not totally eliminated, and that meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and olive oil are desirable dietary components," explained Dr. Gordon. "Beyond that, the more satiating Paleo diet allows more red meat, eschews grains but lacks dairy."

Dr. Gordon told dailyRx News that she often recommends a combination of the two methods to patients.

"In my practice, I tailor some composite of the two diets [Mediterranean and Paleo] according to individual tastes and needs, with particular attention to initial avoidance of grains and appropriate restriction of carbohydrates in the diet, depending on the patient's metabolic status and level of physical activity," said Dr. Gordon.

This study was published in the January 22/29 issue of JAMA. One of the study's authors reported receiving a grant from the International Nut Council.

Review Date: 
January 20, 2014
Last Updated:
March 16, 2015