Strict Mediterranean Diet Aids in Primary Disease Prevention

Certain components of a traditional Mediterranean diet have been found to be healthy, aiding in the prevention of cancer and heart disease. According to a study published in BMJ, researchers have determined that strict adherence to a Mediterranean diet plays a valuable role in primary and secondary disease prevention. “Single nutrients ignore important interactions between components of a diet… people do not eat isolated nutrients”, according to the authors. This is not the first time we’ve heard about the importance of food synergy.

According to the study, …”despite… promotion of the Mediterranean diet, a progressive shift to a non-Mediterranean dietary pattern, even in countries bordering the Mediterranean sea, has progressively developed. It thus seems urgent to identify an effective preventive strategy to decrease the risk burden related to dietary habits in the general population; the use of such a tool could be important in increasing the implementation of dietary guidelines.”

The researchers searched databases for studies that met strict criteria, then assigned scores from the chosen studies - 0 points indicated low adherence to a maximum of 7-9 points, indicating a high adherence to a Mediterranean diet. Next, they grouped the studies according to diseases – death from all causes, incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and deaths from heart disease and cancer. Follow-up times averaged 3.7-18 years, yielding twelve studies; only six of which were performed on Mediterranean populations. The authors looked at a total of 1,574,299 individuals for health outcomes associated with Mediterranean diet patterns.

A stricter adherence to a Mediterranean diet was found to decrease deaths from cancer, significantly reduce the incidence of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and decrease the risk of death from heart disease. According to the results, “a two point increase in the score for adherence to a Mediterranean diet determines a 9% reduction in overall mortality, a 9% reduction in mortality from cardiovascular diseases, a 6% reduction in incidence of or mortality from neoplasm, and a 13% reduction in incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.”

The study concludes, “These results seem to be clinically relevant in terms of public health, particularly for reducing the risk of premature death in the general population... concordant with current guidelines and recommendations from all the major scientific associations that strongly encourage a Mediterranean-like dietary pattern for primary and secondary prevention of major chronic diseases.”

Diets that are limited in red meat; rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, and olive oil are known to promote better cholesterol levels, control blood pressure and prevent obesity – and we shouldn’t forget the health perks of a glass of red red wine with a healthy meal.(1) The current study provides information, from a large populace, suggesting that a strict Mediterranean diet just might be a powerful and attainable means toward disease prevention and management.

(1) Keys A. Seven countries: a multivariate analysis of death and coronary heart disease. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

BMJ 2008; 337:a1344