Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer among adults in the United States. Most risk factors are preventable – such as weight or smoking status – but there is often a genetic component which can put patients at even a higher risk. Adopting the Mediterranean diet may actually cause an interaction at the cellular level which could reduce this risk.
Researchers in Spain studied more than 7,000 men and women who were enrolled in the Prevencion con Dieta Mediterranea (PREDIMED) trial. Subjects were assigned to either a Mediterranean-style diet or a low-fat control diet and monitored for almost five years.
The team focused on a variant in the Transcription Factor 7-Like 2 (TCF7L2) gene which has been strongly associated with the development of type 2 diabetes, but thought also to be a factor in cardiovascular disease as well. About 14% of the PREDIMED participants were carriers of 2 copies of the gene, and therefore at increased risk of disease.
Those on the Mediterranean diet reduced the number of strokes in those at genetic risk for disease, says senior author José M. Ordovás, Ph.D. Those on the typical “low-fat” diet that were carriers were almost three times as likely to have a stroke compared to people without the genetic risk. The researchers note that three factors associated with heart attack and stroke risk (low HDL cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol and elevated triglycerides) were also better controlled in those who consumed a Mediterranean diet.
Additionally, those who adhered more closely to the Mediterranean diet had better blood sugar control than those who did not. Having Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
The study is a significant advance in the field of nutrigenomics, the study of the link between nutrition and gene function and their impact on human health. Scientists hope one day we can use the knowledge gained from these types of studies to provide individualized nutrition advice.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:
• Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
• Replacing butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil
• Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
• Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
• Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
• Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
The diet also recognizes the importance of being physically active and enjoying meals with family and friends.
Corella D, Ordovás JM et al. Mediterranean Diet Reduces the Adverse Effect of the TCFL2-rs7903146 Polymorphism on Cardiovascular Risk Factors and Stroke Incidence.Diabetes Care, August 13, 2013 DOI: 10.2337/dc13-0955
Mayo Clinic: Mediterranean Diet – A Heart-Healthy Eating Plan