Following a Mediterranean Diet Decreases Disease and Mortality Risk

by | Oct 1, 2008

The Mediterranean diet, an eating pattern originally identified in cultures bordering the Mediterranean Sea, is generally associated with better health and quality of life. A new meta-analysis of data from twelve different studies shows that those who most closely follow the Mediterranean diet have decreased risk of cardiovascular mortality, cancer mortality and overall mortality, as well as incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s neurodegenerative diseases.

Scientists from the University of Florence, in Italy, analyzed the data from over half a million (514,816) participants. In their analysis, scores were assigned based on how strictly individuals followed the Mediterranean eating pattern.

The Mediterranean diet was defined as being high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, fish and moderate red wine, while low in red and processed meats and dairy products.

Based on their analysis, the scientists determined that a closer adherence to the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of cardiovascular mortality by 9 percent and cancer mortality by 6 percent. Overall mortality was reduced by 9 percent for those who most consistently follow the Mediterranean diet, while the incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease was lowered 13 percent with greater adherence.

Although it was recognized that the Mediterranean eating pattern is associated with better health, it was not known to what degree better adherence to the diet improves health status. This study adds important new information because until now, dietary analyses have almost always focused on single nutrients or food groups. However, humans eat a vast array of different foods and eating patterns vary tremendously among persons and populations. The present analysis did not rely on individual components of the Mediterranean diet to assess outcome, but instead scored participants based on how many components of the diet were regularly consumed or avoided.

Interestingly, because adherence is a relative measure, this study does not offer insight into what components, if any, contribute the most to health benefits. However, in many ways this is a more helpful measure because it avoids strict dietary prescriptions and only suggests that the more closely the Mediterranean pattern is followed, the more health benefits are seen.

This research was published in the September 11, 2008, issue of the British Medical Journal.

This article can also be found at Synapse.

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2 Responses to “Following a Mediterranean Diet Decreases Disease and Mortality Risk”

  1. zamley says:

    A new Portuguese study found that adults who ate a Mediterranean diet cut their risk of asthma by 78%. 78%!!

  2. Steve Parker, M.D. says:

    You can see results of the Portugal study here, if interested: Mediterranean diet also was recently demonstrated to reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes. For details, see: my analysis of the Mediterranean meta-analysis under discussion, please see: lead author took time to respond to my comments.

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