Mediterranean Diet Reduces Diabetes, Inflammation

March 31, 2014

Two new studies show the heart-healthy benefits of this eating plan.

Two new studies show the heart-healthy benefits of eating a Mediterranean diet. One study linked the diet to a lower risk of diabetes mellitus (DM), especially among those at high risk for cardiovascular disease. The other study tied the eating plan to lower levels of platelets and white blood cells, 2 markers of inflammation, which has been associated with a greater risk of myocardial infarction and stroke.

In the first pooled analysis of studies evaluating the possible role of the Mediterranean diet in DM development, adherence to this diet was associated with a 21% reduced risk of DM compared with the control dietary groups. The likelihood of developing DM was almost 27% less in those at high risk for cardiovascular disease than in controls.

“Adherence to the Mediterranean diet may prevent the development of diabetes irrespective of age, sex, race, or culture,” said lead investigator Demosthenes Panagiotakos, PhD, professor at Harokopio University, Athens, Greece. “This diet has a beneficial effect, even in high-risk groups, and speaks to the fact that it is never too late to start eating a healthy diet.”

Dr Panagiotakos and colleagues systematically reviewed 19 original research studies that followed more than 162,000 participants for an average of 5.5 years. These studies spanned European and non-European populations, which is important because most of the published studies have been European-based and there has been some question of possible confounding factors in these regions, including genetics, the environment, lifestyle, and lower stress levels.

The Mediterranean diet frequently emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil, and even a glass of red wine.

Dr Panagiotakos said he believes the Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of DM by helping guard against obesity. Earlier research has shown that following the traditional Mediterranean diet also is linked to weight loss, a reduced risk of heart disease and related death, and lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.

Dr Panagiotakos presented his study on March 27, 2014, at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session in Washington, DC.

Mediterranean Diet Lowers Inflammation

To understand whether a Mediterranean diet might favorably influence platelet and white blood cell levels, Italian researchers conducted an analysis of the eating habits of nearly 15,000 healthy Italian men and women aged 35 years or older as part of a large epidemiological study.

The investigators observed that consumption of the Mediterranean diet was directly related to lower levels of platelets and white blood cells, which, in turn, correlated to lower levels of inflammation. Those who strictly followed a traditional Mediterranean diet were less likely to belong to study cohorts with relatively high platelet counts and were more likely to belong to cohorts with relatively low white blood cell counts.

“Because the study included healthy participants, the lower levels of platelets and white blood cells in those who were more strictly consuming a Mediterranean diet indicate that this eating plan could account for substantial changes within normal ranges of variability,” said lead author Marialaura Bonaccio, PhD. “This is an important finding that has implications for how these anti-inflammatory markers are tracked among the general population.” Dr Bonaccio is with the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the IRCCS Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo NEUROMED in Italy.

Dr Bonaccio published her results online in the March 31, 2014, issue of Blood.