Heart rate variability is well-known to be related to cardiac health, said Dr. Gordon F. Tomaselli, chief of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University and a spokesman for the American Heart Association. Low variability means that the autonomic system that controls heart rate might not be able to respond properly to increased demand or that the heart "is in crisis mode all the time," he explained.
The results have an inevitable range of uncertainty, since they depended on self-reports of dietary habits, and the physical link between diet and heart rate variability is not completely clear, Tomaselli said. "But all other things being equal, a more Mediterranean-like diet appears to swing the balance to the healthy side of the autonomic system," he added.
Tomaselli said he tries to steer people toward a Mediterranean-type diet, without necessarily using the term. "I see a lot of people who I think should eat more fish and reduce caloric intake, to eat more fruits and vegetables, to use canola or olive oil when they use oil, and to back off salty foods," he said.
Details and variations on the theme of the Mediterranean diet are outlined by the American Heart Association.
SOURCES: Jun Dai, M.D., Ph.D., professor, nutrition and epidemiology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind.; Gordon F. Tomaselli, M.D., professor, medicine, and chief, cardiology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; June 15, 2010, Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, online
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