For some time researchers have suggested that a Mediterranean diet — high in fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, and ﬁsh — may help lower heart disease risk and increase life expectancy.
An increasing amount of scientific evidence now backs up this notion. Recent studies have linked reduced rates of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and cancers with Mediterranean diets.
Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Diseases
Lots of research has investigated the effect of a Mediterranean diet on the risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
A meta-analysis of several studies published in March 2023, with a pooled sample of more than 700,000 female participants, has found that, by adhering closely to a Mediterranean diet, women reduced their risk of CVD by 24%, and their risk of death from any cause by 23%. The meta-analysis seems to confirm the findings of previous research.
The study concludes that no specific component of the Mediterranean diet has been shown to be as beneficial as the whole diet in CVD prevention.
Mediterranean Diet and Dementia
There is also increasing evidence that the diet may enhance cognitive function. A study published in March 2023 that used UK Biobank data has just reported that individuals with a higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet had up to 23% lower risk for dementia compared with those who had lower adherence to a Mediterranean diet.
The study, which used data from more than 60,000 people, concluded that the Mediterranean diet lowered dementia risk even in those with a genetic predisposition for dementia. The authors conclude that adopting a diet high in healthy, plant-based foods may be a strategy for reducing dementia risk.
Mediterranean Diet and Cancer
The diet has been found to both reduce the risk of some cancers and improve the efficacy of some cancer treatments.
A 2019 review found that high adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a lower rate of several cancers, including breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers. This study concluded that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of components of the diet “prevent and counteract DNA damages and slow down the development of various forms of cancer.”
Although the exact mechanism by which the Mediterranean diet benefits health is unclear, there is increasing evidence that the diet can have five main effects:
- Lowering lipids
- Protecting against oxidative stress, inflammation, and platelet aggregation
- Modifying hormones and growth factors involved in cancer pathogenesis
- Restricting specific amino acids
- Influencing the gut microbiome to produce metabolites that benefit metabolic health
The Mediterranean diet is just one of many diets that have health benefits. Others include the MIND, Nordic, and DASH diets. So, the key to any healthy diet is incorporating plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Most importantly, any dietary changes made should be long-term and sustainable to give health benefits.
Pant A, Gribbin S, McIntyre D, et alPrimary prevention of cardiovascular disease in women with a Mediterranean diet: systematic review and meta-analysisHeart Published Online First: 14 March 2023. doi: 10.1136/heartjnl-2022-321930
Shannon, O.M., Ranson, J.M., Gregory, S. et al. Mediterranean diet adherence is associated with lower dementia risk, independent of genetic predisposition: findings from the UK Biobank prospective cohort study. BMC Med 21, 81 (March 14, 2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-023-02772-3
Mentella MC, Scaldaferri F, Ricci C, Gasbarrini A, Miggiano GAD. Cancer and Mediterranean Diet: A Review. Nutrients. 2019 Sep 2;11(9):2059. doi: 10.3390/nu11092059. PMID: 31480794; PMCID: PMC6770822.
Tosti V, Bertozzi B, Fontana L. Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Metabolic and Molecular Mechanisms. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2018 Mar 2;73(3):318-326. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glx227. PMID: 29244059; PMCID: PMC7190876.
Katharine Lang on March 18, 2023. Can a Mediterranean diet help keep heart disease, dementia, and cancer at bay?. MedicalNewsToday. Retrieved March 20, 2023 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/can-a-mediterranean-diet-help-keep-heart-disease-dementia-and-cancer-at-bay