MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr Nita Forouhi, MRCP, PhD, FFPHM
MRC Epidemiology Unit
University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine
Institute of Metabolic Science
Cambridge Biomedical Campus
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: The benefits of the Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular health are well documented in countries of the Mediterranean region and some other countries, but there is little such evidence in the UK general population. Our work fills this research gap.
In our study we followed up 23,902 initially healthy Britons living in Norfolk (Eastern England) for an average of 12 to 17 years, and determined the occurrence of new cases of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and deaths due to CVD during that time period. Our results showed that those adults who adhered to a Mediterranean diet had 6% to 16% lower risk of developing CVD, compared to those who had dietary habits further away from the Mediterranean-type diet pattern. This was the case even when we accounted for several important risk factors and correlates of CVD, including as age, sex, body mass index, lifestyle habits such as smoking, alcohol intake and physical activity, and socio-economic factors.
We also modelled what would happen in the study population if all the participants increased their adherence to the Mediterranean-type diet. From this we estimated that nearly 4% of all new cardiovascular disease cases, or 12.5% of cardiovascular deaths in the population could potentially be avoided. This is novel information about the potential health benefit of a Mediterranean-type diet in a UK context. However, we should remember that our study was an observational study, not a clinical trial with a dietary intervention, and thus we cannot imply a cause and effect relationship between increasing adherence to the Mediterranean diet and reduction in cardiovascular disease.
We defined the Mediterranean diet using a 15 point score based on guideline recommendations from a Mediterranean dietary pyramid published by the Mediterranean Diet Foundation. The recommendations had not previously been specifically tested for their associations with health, so our findings, for the first time, show the utility of the Mediterranean dietary pyramid.