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Risk of Stroke, Heart Disease in Women Lowered by Mediterranean Diet

BOSTON, Feb. 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Women who adhere to a traditional Mediterranean diet -- high in monounsaturated fat, plant proteins, whole grains and fish -- are at a lower risk for stroke and coronary heart disease, according to a study published this week in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The research, led by Simmons College Nutrition Professor Teresa Fung, found that women whose diets most closely resembled the Mediterranean diet had a 29% reduction in heart disease risk, and a 13% reduction in stroke risk when compared with those women whose diets least resembled it. Diseases of the heart (coronary heart disease) and stroke are two of the top three leading causes of death in the U.S. for women and men.

"These are dramatic results," said Fung. Previous studies have shown an association between the Mediterranean diet and reduced risk of cardiovascular death in men and women. This study is one of the first to look at non-fatal events. "Women whose diets look like the Mediterranean diet are not only less likely to die from heart disease and stroke, but also less likely to have those diseases," she said.

This is the first large-scale study to focus on the non-fatal incidence of heart disease and stroke in women, said Fung. "Women whose diets look like the Mediterranean diet are not only less likely to die from heart disease and stroke, but are less likely to have those diseases," she said.

Foods and beverages common in this diet include monounsaturated fats, vegetables, whole grains, fish, moderate alcohol, and limited red meat, refined grains, and sweets.

During the study's 20 years of follow-up, researchers found 2,391 incidents of coronary heart disease, 1,763 strokes and a combined total of 1,077 fatal heart attacks and strokes.

Fung and her colleagues used data from 74,886 women ages 38-63 who participated in the Nurses' Health Study, a National Institutes of Health-funded project that began in 1976 to examine factors that influence women's health. Their study focused on data from 1984 on, which provided more detailed diet measurements than those of previous years.

Researchers scored the diets as most closely resembling the Mediterranean diet, although the U.S. food choices differed in many ways from those in southern Italy and Greece, where the diet has been followed traditionally. For instance, the traditional Mediterranean diet features olive oil, which is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, as the primary cooking oil. The U.S. version of the diet would probably have more canola oil or peanut butter as sources of monounsaturated fat, researchers said.

Compared to a typical U.S. diet, the Mediterranean diet requires a shift toward a more plant-based diet, which means eating less meat and getting more protein from plant sources like beans and nuts.

Researchers, including co-authors Kathryn M. Rexrode, M.D.; Christos S. Mantzoros, M.D.; JoAnn E. Manson, M.D., Dr.P.H.; Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H.; and Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph.D., said their results need to be replicated in other populations, especially men.

Last year, Fung released data from a study showing that women who adhered to the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) -- a diet developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute -- significantly lowered their risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. The DASH diet is high in fruits and vegetables and low in animal proteins. The study indicated for the first time that the diet, which had previously been shown to lower blood pressure, also reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke among middle-aged women.

Simmons College ( is a nationally recognized private university located in the heart of Boston. It offers an undergraduate education for women, and renowned coeducational graduate programs in health sciences, education, liberal arts, social work, library and information science, and communications management, as well as the nation's first MBA program designed specifically for women.

SOURCE Simmons College
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