A meta-analysis of studies encompassing a total of nearly 1.6 million individuals shows that adherence to the eating pattern known as the Mediterranean diet significantly reduces mortality as well as the rates of various illnesses.
“These results seem to be clinically relevant for public health, in particular for encouraging a Mediterranean-like dietary pattern for primary prevention of major chronic diseases,” conclude researchers (BMJ. 2008;337:a1344).
The Mediterranean diet features vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole-grain cereals, nuts, and fish, with a moderate intake of red wine at meals. Olive oil is the main source of fat, and the consumption of red and processed meats and dairy products is low.
The investigators looked at 12 prospective cohort studies that analyzed the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and health outcomes in primary prevention settings. The follow-up periods recorded in the studies ranged from three to 18 years.
Adherence to this style of eating led to reductions in:
• Overall mortality and cardiovascular mortality by 9% each
• Cancer mortality and incidence of cancer mortality by 6% each
• Incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease by
Yet despite these demonstrated health benefits, “a progressive shift to a non-Mediterranean dietary pattern, even in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, has progressively developed,” caution investigators. “It therefore seems urgent to identify an effective preventive strategy [that will] decrease the risk burden related to dietary habits in the general population.”