Mediterranean diet is good for heart, study says

ORLANDO Florida – A «Mediterranean diet,» rich in olive oil and lean on meat, reduces signs of inflammation that raise the risk of heart disease, researchers reported yesterday. The finding was among the newest evidence, presented at an annual meeting of the American Heart Association, that diets low in fat and rich in fruit and vegetables may prevent heart disease – the leading killer of Americans. A Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruit, vegetables, fish and olive oil, and very little meat, and has been linked to lower heart disease rates. In the new study, researchers tracked the eating habits of about 3,000 men and women in Greece aged 18 to 89 who did not have cardiovascular disease. The closer people adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the lower their levels of various measures of inflammation, which recent research shows plays a major role in the development of heart disease. Some have speculated that other factors, such as exercise and the stress levels in Mediterranean countries, may account for the heart benefits. But Demosthenes Panayiotakos of Harokopeio University of Piraeus, lead researcher of the new study, said his findings held true even when differences in body mass index, physical activity, age, sex and education level were accounted for. «The effect of this diet was independent,» he said. He added that he believed the benefits «were from the diet as a whole, not specific items consumed.» A separate study, at Tufts University in Boston, helped explain why eating fish is good for the heart. It showed eating at least two servings of fish each week was linked to slower worsening of heart lesions. The findings were particularly true for tuna and dark meat fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, and when consumed by diabetic women. Researchers are unsure why white fish did not seem as beneficial, said Arja Erikkila, the lead researcher. Other researchers at Oregon Health & Science University set out to discover how fish oil supplements prevent sudden cardiac death. One theory is that they reduce the occurrence of dangerous irregular heart beats, or arrhythmias. Looking at 200 patients who had implanted defibrillators that recorded arrhythmias, the researchers found the fish oil supplements did not decrease the frequency any more than placebo capsules. Still, strong evidence remains that fish oil and other sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed oil, reduce death from cardiovascular disease, and people should not abandon them.