Doctors should consider diet before drugs and governments should subsidize fish, fruit and vegetables, according to medical experts. Eating a healthier diet could be more beneficial to existing heart patients than them being prescribed drugs such as statins, the consensus in the medical community agrees.
These conclusions arise as a result of the latest study on the effects on health of what has become known as the Mediterranean diet. Hailing from southern Europe, this is usually described as one with plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, legumes, olive oil and moderate amounts of red wine.
Meat consumption is low and there is virtually no consumption of butter, although feta cheese and yogurt are eaten.
The study differed from others carried out in that it looked at the impact of the diet on the survival of people already suffering from heart disease. It tracked 1,200 Italian heart patients over seven years and found that eating a Mediterranean diet cut early deaths by 37 percent.
These results were deemed so remarkable when released recently at the world’s biggest heart conference in Rome, that experts said governments should consider handing out free vegetables, fruit and fish or at least subsidising them to encourage people to eat healthier diets.
Seven million people in the United Kingdom have heart disease, and while the country’s National Health Service pays for drugs it doesn’t pay for vegetables, said Dr. Giovanni de Gaetano, an epidemiologist, professor at Boston University’s School of Medicine and a leading expert in disease prevention in Italy. “The state should consider contributing towards those foods which make up the Mediterranean diet.”
While many people might still need to take statins, which can help to prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease (CVD), they might be able to manage on a far lower dose thus avoiding potential painful side effects, de Gaetano said. He urged doctors and patients to think far more about lifestyle changes than always reaching for the medicine bottle.
Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower the level of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as “bad cholesterol,” in the blood. Having a high level of LDL cholesterol is potentially dangerous as it can lead to hardening and narrowing of the arteries and CVD.
According to Dr. Marialaura Bonaccio, lead author of the Italian report, the major contributors to mortality risk reduction were a higher consumption of vegetables, fish, fruits, nuts and monosaturated fatty acids – “that means olive oil.”
The next step in this research is to investigate exactly how the Mediterranean diet appears to reduce the risk of dying early. British experts said the “powerful anti-inflammatory effects” of foods such as olive oil, nuts and vegetables were likely to make the difference.
Dr. Aseem Malhotra, a London-based cardiologist, told the Daily Telegraph, one of a number of British newspapers reporting on the conference: “The results of this robust observational study are quite extraordinary. The Mediterranean diet is more powerful than any drug at reducing deaths in patients with cardiovascular disease.”
Jeremy Pearson, a professor of vascular biology at King’s College London and a member of the British Heart Foundation told the newspaper: “This study suggests that even if you are already receiving medical care, if you add a Mediterranean diet it will have further benefit.”
According to the Daily Telegraph, following a Mediterranean diet ideally means eating four or more servings of fish per week, at least double the amount recommended by the British government. And most Britons don’t even follow that advice. No wonder cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in the U.K.
Perhaps handing out free fish instead of drugs is a very good idea.