The Mediterranean Diet For Heart Health

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Mediterranean diet

Can You Cut Your Heart Disease Risk In Half?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

what ifShould you use the Mediterranean diet for heart health?

What if…

  • You could reduce your risk of heart disease by almost 50%…and…
  • It didn’t cost you an extra penny?
  • You didn’t need to lose weight (although you would probably get even better results if you did)?
  • You didn’t need to buy a gym membership and start a workout program (although you would probably get even better results if you did)?
  • There were absolutely no side effects?
  • There were considerable side benefits like reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, and cognitive decline as you aged?

Would you be interested? I’m willing to bet if this were a TV ad, you would be on the edge of your seat. If it were a new “magic” supplement, you might be reaching for your credit card before the ad was over. If it was the latest “miracle” workout machine, you might order it right away.

However, I am not talking about a magic pill or a miracle workout machine. I’m talking about a way of eating called the Mediterranean diet. Recent headlines have claimed that the Mediterranean diet can cut heart disease risk almost in half. This would lead you to believe you could use the Mediterranean diet for heart health.  Let’s look at the evidence behind that claim.

 

How Was The Study Designed?

omega-3 lowers heart disease riskThe study behind the headlines (C-M. Kastorini et al. Atherosclerosis, 246: 87-93, 2016) enrolled 2583 adults, ages 18-89, from the region around Athens, Greece in a 10-year study beginning in 2001-2002.

At the beginning of the study and at the 5 and 10-year mark, participants completed in-depth surveys about their medical records, lifestyle, and dietary habits. These surveys were conducted by trained personnel (cardiologists, general practitioners, dietitians, and nurses). Participants with active cardiovascular disease in the first survey were excluded from the study.

The study evaluated 4 things:

  • Cardiovascular disease risk factors including obesity, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, diabetes, and inflammation.
  • Adherence to the Mediterranean diet (see below).
  • Heart disease incidence based on heart attacks, stroke, angina, ischemia, cardiac arrhythmias and deaths due to heart disease.
  • Confounding variables such as age, sex, family history of heart disease, smoking, and lack of physical activity. All comparisons were corrected for these confounding variables so that they did not influence the results.

Adherence to the Mediterranean diet was based on a diet analysis scoring system called MedDietScore. The Mediterranean diet is one which emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil, and moderate consumption of red wine.  You can see this might lead you to believe in the Mediterranean diet for heart health.

The MedDietScore gives positive points based on how often these foods are consumed. It gives negative points based on how often meats, meat products, poultry, and full-fat dairy products are consumed. For alcohol, modest consumption is considered a positive, with either no or excess alcohol consumption rating a score of 0. The composite score ranges from 0 to 55, with higher values indicating greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet.

As an aside, you might think that everyone in Greece consumes a Mediterranean diet. Unfortunately, our unhealthy Western diet and our fast foods restaurants are making inroads in the birthplace of the Mediterranean diet.

 

The Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health?

Mediterranean diet for heart healthEven after correcting for confounding variables, the study results were impressive.

  • Each 10% increase in adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a 15% decreased risk of developing heart disease during the 10-year study period.
  • When they compared participants in the upper third for adherence to the Mediterranean diet to those in the lower third, their risk of developing heart disease was decreased by 47%. That’s huge.

However, the results were even more impressive when they looked at the effects of the Mediterranean diet on other risk factors for heart disease.

  • For individuals with low adherence to the Mediterranean diet, each of those risk factors (obesity, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, diabetes, and inflammation) independently increased the risk of developing heart disease. These results are identical to almost every other published study looking at those risk factors.
  • However, for individuals with high adherence to the Mediterranean diet, those same risk factors had only small, non-significant effects on the risk of developing heart disease. If this finding is verified by future studies, it would suggest that adherence to a Mediterranean diet has the potential to override risk factors like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.

Of course, I would not recommend that you ignore obesity and other cardiovascular risk factors and just focus on following a Mediterranean diet. I’m pretty sure you will get even better results if you get your weight, blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure under control in addition to following a Mediterranean diet. Who knows, you might even reduce your risk of heart disease by 75% or more.  So, should we believe in the Mediterranean diet for heart health?

What Does This Mean For You?

If this were the only published study showing that adherence to the Mediterranean diet reduces heart disease risk I would consider it speculative. However, it is only one of several recent studies that have come to a similar conclusion. At this point in time, the evidence is strong that following a Mediterranean-type diet will reduce your heart disease risk.  The Mediterranean diet for heart health seems to be true.

That brings me back to my opening statement. Following a Mediterranean diet:

  • Won’t cost you a penny. You are just spending your food budget on healthier foods.
  • May reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 47% even if you don’t lose weight, but I recommend that you do lose weight.
  • May be as effective as exercise at reducing your heart disease risk. That statement comes from a talk given by one of the authors when he was describing the study.
  • Has no side effects. You could probably achieve a 47% reduction in heart disease using a cardiologist-approved cocktail of 3-5 drugs, but those drugs would come with significant side effects and a considerable cost for someone.
  • Will likely come with side benefits like reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, and cognitive decline.

My question to you is: Now that you know that a simple dietary change could have all those benefits and no downside, are you willing to give it a try? If so, your heart may just thank you for it.

However, I don’t mean to imply that the Mediterranean diet is the only way to reduce your heart disease risk. If your blood pressure is elevated, you might want to try the DASH diet . If you want to reduce heart disease risk and also minimize cognitive decline as you age, you might want to consider the MIND diet .

Those three diets are actually quite similar. They all emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish, and moderate amounts of healthy fats. They all minimize refined flour, pastries, sweets, red & processed meats. You won’t find a Twinkie or a Big Mac in any of them.

The Mediterranean diet for heart health?  Sure!

The Bottom Line

 

  • A recent study suggests that adherence to a Mediterranean type diet could reduce the risk of developing heart disease by up to 47%.
  • The beneficial effect of the Mediterranean diet was so strong that it overcame other cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, diabetes, and inflammation.
  • This study is likely to be accurate because it is fully consistent with several other studies looking at the effect of the Mediterranean diet on heart disease risk.
  • To put it into perspective, this simple dietary change.
    • Won’t cost you a penny. You just redirect your food budget.
    • Has zero side effects. You could probably achieve a similar 47% reduction in heart disease risk with a cardiologist-approved cocktail of 3-5 drugs, but that would come with multiple side effects.
    • Has side benefits such as reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, and cognitive decline
  • However, the Mediterranean diet is not the only game in town. Other studies suggest that the DASH diet and MIND diet are also effective at reducing heart disease risk.
  • Those three diet patterns (Mediterranean, DASH & MIND) are actually quite similar. They all emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish, and moderate amounts of healthy fats. They all minimize refined flour, pastries, sweets, red & processed meats. You won’t find a Twinkie or a Big Mac in any of them.
  • Finally, I am not suggesting that you go on the one of these diets and just throw away your heart medicines without talking to your doctor. However, I would recommend that you talk with your doctor about implementing what the National Institutes of Health calls Therapeutic Lifestyle Change. All three dietary patterns are fully consistent with the NIH-recommended Therapeutic Lifestyle Change. The NIH recommends that Therapeutic Lifestyle Change be tried before considering cholesterol lowering drugs or be used along with cholesterol lowering drugs so that drug dosage can be minimized.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (2)

  • Louise Levesque

    |

    Thank you for your article on the Mediterranean Diet. I suffer from high blood pressure and high cholesterol, so I am a prime candidate for heart disease. These three diets will help me avoid heart disease. Is there anything I can change in my diet to avoid strokes?

    Reply

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Latest Article

Stress and Jaw Pain

Posted September 19, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Get Rid Of Jaw Pain Forever

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

In this article we will show a connection between stress and jaw pain. 

stress and jaw painStress is a part of everyone’s life, but the way you handle it makes a huge difference.  People think of stress coming from challenges like divorce, bills, etc., but it can also come from happy situations. Positive life changes such as getting married or having a baby can also cause stress.

For some people, the solution to stress is to take a yoga class or practice tai chi regularly.  For others, running, exercising, or listening to music eases their mind.

In my Muscular Therapy office, people frequently tell me “I hold my stress in my shoulders,” or “…in my back.” However, a common stress reaction is to clench your teeth tightly. Actually, people hold stress all over their body, from headaches and clenched jaws to foot pain. I want to discuss how clenching your jaws is a common cause of TMJ. Fortunately, it’s a condition that is easy to treat by yourself.

Stress And Jaw Pain

jaw painJaw pain is commonly caused by a shortening of the masseter muscle. The masseter muscle (circled on graphic) is the muscle that contracts to enable you to chew your food.  Normally, as you chew the muscle shortens and then lengthens as you put more food into your mouth.  How can stress and jaw pain be related?  If you are under stress and your teeth are clenched, you miss the lengthening movement. This imbalance causes the muscle to shorten.

Put your fingers on your cheeks so you are pressing into your back teeth.  Now, clench your teeth and you’ll feel the muscle bulge.  If you clench your teeth when you sleep or you tend to clench your teeth when you are upset, you are setting yourself up for TMJ.

Stress And Jaw Pain (TMJ)

TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) pain is a condition where your jaw bone rubs or “clicks” over the bone that is just in front of your ear. It is painful, and over time it will damage the bones. When you are under stress and clenching your teeth, you are shortening your masseter muscle. A phenomenon called “muscle memory” will cause the muscle to actually get stuck in the shortened position. The now-shorter muscle prevents you from opening your jaw completely.  For example, when you yawn.  As you are trying to yawn, your jaw flips over the bone and it hurts.

Several years ago, I had a client who had such tight masseter muscles that a dental surgeon was going to sever them so she could open her mouth.  This is a terrible solution because it would mean her mouth would hang open for the rest of her life. Fortunately for this client, she had to get medical approval before she could have the surgery.  When Dr. Cohen (the doctor I worked with) felt her masseter muscles, he refused to sign the permission form. He told her that she had to see me first.  Fortunately, I was there at the time.  It took just 30 minutes for me to release the spasms and teach her how to do the treatment.  At the end of the session she was pressing into both masseter muscles and opening her mouth.  She did it easily and without pain!  She started to cry because she came within one day of having this unnecessary surgery.

Her life was changed by just a simple self-treatment!

Self-Treatment For TMJ Pain

stress and jaw pain reliefHere is how to administer TMJ pain relief to yourself.  Place your fingers as shown in the picture to the left.  Clench your teeth so you can feel the muscles bulge.

Apply deep pressure on just one side for 5 seconds. Then release that pressure and apply deep pressure to the opposite side for 5 seconds. Go back and forth until it doesn’t hurt anymore.  Then find a different “hot spot,” and repeat.  Continue doing this until you can’t find any more tender points on your muscle and jaw.

To stretch the masseter muscle, just press deeply into the original point on the muscle pain free living book coverand slowly open your mouth wide.

Hopefully, you can now see the connection between stress and jaw pain.  Stress is a killer, and is the cause for pain all over your body.  It’s also important to find the cause of stress and do all that is necessary to resolve it.

My book, “Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living,” will show you how to self-treat painful spasms throughout your body.  Don’t let the pain caused by stress stop you in your tracks. You can become pain-free, and then go and enjoy a yoga class to release stress from your life.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

julie donnelly

About The Author

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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