The Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and death among women by 25 percent, according to a new study published in the journal Heart.
Cardiovascular disease accounts for more than a third of all deaths among women. Despite this overwhelming statistic, most clinical trials include very few women or haven’t reported the results by sex. As a result, current guidelines on how best to lower cardiovascular disease risk don’t differentiate by sex.
To inform sex specific guidance, the researchers gathered studies which had examined the impact of the Mediterranean diet on women’s cardiovascular health.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil. It is moderate in fish and low in red meats, dairy and processed foods.
The researchers analyzed 16 studies between 2003 and 2021 carried out in the US and Europe, involving more than 700,000 women whose cardiovascular health was monitored for an average of 12.5 years.
The results showed that sticking closely to a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 24 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and a 23 percent lower risk of death from any cause in women.
The risk of coronary heart disease was 25 percent lower among women who followed the diet the most consistently compared with those who did so the least. The researchers believe these health benefits can be attributed to the diet’s antioxidant and gut microbiome effects on inflammation and cardiovascular risk factors.
Various components of the diet include polyphenols, nitrates, omega-3 fatty acids, increased fiber intake and reduced glycaemic load – which may all contribute to better cardiovascular health.
The sex specific effect of the Mediterranean diet remains unclear, reinforcing the need for more sex specific research in cardiology.
“Female specific cardiovascular risk factors, including premature menopause, pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes, or female predominant risk factors, such as systemic lupus, can all independently increase [cardiovascular disease] risk,” said the researchers.
“It is possible that preventative measures, such as a Mediterranean diet, that targets inflammation and [cardiovascular disease] risk factors, impose differing effects in women compared with men.”
By Katherine Bucko, Earth.com Staff Writer
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