Mediterranean diet helps existing heart disease, too

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Eating a Mediterranean-style diet can help heart patients stay healthy, new research from Greece shows.

This eating pattern, which includes lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, vegetable oils, low-fat dairy products, legumes, whole grains, and fish, has been shown to help shield people from heart disease and may also ward off certain cancers, Dr. Christina Chrysohoou of the University of Athens and her colleagues note in their report.

But less information is available on whether the Mediterranean diet might be helpful for people who already have heart disease.

To investigate, Chrysohoou and her team looked at 1,000 patients who had suffered heart attacks or severe chest pain while at rest or with only light exertion. They rated each patient on a scale of 0 to 55 based on how closely their eating matched the Mediterranean ideal.

Nearly half of the patients experienced a second heart-related event within two years after their original hospital discharge.

But patients with the most Mediterranean-style diets were at 31 percent lower risk of suffering another heart attack or experiencing chest pain during the first month after they were discharged from the hospital.

They were only half as likely as those with the least Mediterranean eating habits to have another heart-related event within a year, and nearly 40 percent less likely to experience repeat heart problems within two years.

For every additional point on the 55-point Mediterranean Diet Score, a person’s risk of having another heart-related event over the next two years fell by 12 percent, the researchers found. Patients with the most Mediterranean diets were also the least likely to experience reductions in the ability of the heart’s main pumping chamber to work at full capacity, as well as harmful structural changes to the heart known as cardiac remodeling.

When the researchers looked at different components of the Mediterranean diet separately, they found that vegetables and salad and nuts were the only foods that cut risk; people who ate vegetables and salad or nuts daily or weekly were at 20 percent lower risk of repeat heart problems within two years of their initial hospitalization compared to people who ate these foods monthly or less often.

Based on the findings, Chrysohoou and her team conclude, strategies to reduce mortality and illness due to heart disease should include a “diet that contains the favorable characteristics of the Mediterranean diet.”

SOURCE: here American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online May 19, 2010.