If you already have heart problems, can the Mediterranean diet help?

Volume 6    |    Issue 76

You've probably heard about the many benefits of the Mediterranean diet on your heart. It helps lower your risk for heart attacks, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and illnesses associated with poor circulation. But what if you already have had a heart attack or other cardiovascular problem? Can it help you? Well, new research says yes! And there's one key component in the diet that seems to help the most.

Professor Giovanni de Gaetano is the head of the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the IRCCS Neuromed Institute in Italy. He recently wrote that "many scientific studies have shown that a traditional Mediterranean lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of various chronic diseases and, more importantly, of death from any cause."

Most of these studies have assessed the effects of the Mediterranean diet in healthy people. But Professor de Gaetano and his colleagues wanted to take them a step further. They wanted to find out if the diet would help people who have already had a heart attack or other cardiovascular event.

To conduct their study, they looked at an ongoing study of 25,000 Italian adults (known as the MOLI-SANI study). They were able to identify 1,200 participants with a history of heart disease — coronary artery disease, heart attack, or stroke. Their food intake was recorded by questionnaire and rated according to how closely they adhered to the Mediterranean diet (vegetables, fish, fruit, nuts, and olive oil). Mediterranean diet adherence was assigned a score on a scale from 1 to 9 (MDS score).

They followed the study participants for an average of eight years. During that time period, there were 208 deaths. First, they sought to rule out other factors. These included age, total caloric intake, smoking, exercise, education level, and more. The researchers found that the study participants who followed a Mediterranean diet more closely had a reduced risk of death.

What's more, the individuals who reported the best adherence to the Mediterranean diet (MDS scores from 6 to 9) had the greatest benefit. They reduced their risk of death by 37% compared to those participants who reported poor adherence (MDS scores from 1 to 3).

In analysis of the study results, the researchers identified higher consumption of these components of the Mediterranean diet as being influential in reducing the risk of death: vegetables, fish, fruit, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO).

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But that wasn't enough for Professor de Gaetano. He continued to search for more answers. He wrote: "These results prompt us to investigate the mechanism(s) through which the Mediterranean diet may protect against death."

One proposed mechanism is the anti-inflammatory activity of EVOO. Extra virgin olive oil contains more than 30 phenols, biologically active compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. Medical professionals believe that a daily dose of EVOO, over the long term, can help protect against inflammatory conditions.

But I've told you in the past that EVOO's health-promoting powers have a limited shelf life. In fact, recent studies show that the phenols in EVOO lose about 40% of their potency after only six months. And most olive oil sold in supermarkets is already six to nine months old by the time it reaches the U.S.

Not to mention, much of what is on supermarket shelves may be adulterated with cheaper, chemically refined grades of olive oil or other vegetable oils. Or it may even be fake, tinted with chlorophyll. Recent investigations have revealed that up to 80% of imported olive oil is not actually EVOO, including top brands that may be in your pantry right now.

Adulterated, fake, stale, or rancid oil isn't going to offer any of the health benefits of pure, authentic EVOO. Fortunately, there's a solution. The only way to make sure you're getting pure extra-virgin olive oil is to find a company that's sourcing oils from the most recent global harvest. This ensures they — and you — are getting the freshest, highest-phenolic EVOO.

I have only one source I trust for this type of olive oil. They procure only independently lab-certified EVOO, imported quarterly from the world's latest harvest. And it's easy to find. All you have to do is follow this link.

If you have any health issues — or just want to avoid health problems as long as you can — include fish, grass-fed beef, fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and olive oil in your daily diet. And make sure you're getting the freshest foods possible. They won't just help you live longer — they'll help you live better.

Your insider for better health,

Baiano A, Gambacorta G, Terracone C, Previtali MA, Lamacchia C, La Notte E. Changes in phenolic content and antioxidant activity of Italian extra-virgin olive oils during storage. J Food Sci. 2007;74(2):177—183.

de Gaetano G, et al. Higher adherence to Mediterranean diet is associated with lower risk of overall mortality in subjects with cardiovascular disease: prospective results from the MOLI-SANI study. Abstract presented at European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2016, Rome, Italy, August 28, 2016.

Flynn M, Wang S. Olive oil as medicine: the effect on blood lipids and lipoproteins. UC Davis Olive Center Report. March 2015.

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