In one of the first large studies of the Mediterranean diet as a ‘treatment’, Italian researchers have shown that a diet rich in vegetables, nuts, fish and oils worked better than statins in reducing the risk of early death.
Researchers followed 1,200 people with a history of heart attacks, strokes and blocked arteries over seven years. During that time, 208 patients died but the closer people followed an optimum Mediterranean diet the less likely they were to be among the fatalities.
High consumption of vegetables was shown to have the biggest impact on survival, followed by oily fish intake, amount of fruit eaten and consumption of mono-unsaturated fat, found in olive oil.
Speaking at a conference in Rome last week, professor Giovanni de Gaetano, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the IRCCS Neuromed Institute in Italy, said: “We found that among those with a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet, death from any cause was reduced by 37 per cent in comparison to those who poorly adhered to this dietary regime.” This, he says, represents a better success rate than statins.
” … those with a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet, death from any cause was reduced by 37 per cent”
Professor de Gaetano added that diet had a “powerful effect” and doctors should consider tackling food intake before resorting to drugs. “So far research has focused on the general population, which is mainly composed of healthy people. What happens to people who have already suffered from cardiovascular disease? Is the Mediterranean diet optimal for them too?”.
The findings of the Italian study have been described by health experts as “extraordinary”, leading to some to call for organizations like the NHS to make fruit and vegetables available for free to the public. Other specialists continue to recommend a combination of statins plus dietary and lifestyle change.
Sir David Nicholson, former chief executive of the NHS, entered the debate over statins last month when he said he had stopped taking them as part of his medication for diabetes. “If a lifestyle change works then why would you take the statin? The trouble is that they give you a statin straightaway, so you don’t know what is working,” he said.