~ Mediterranean Diet plus Healthy Lifestyle Factors Cuts Death Rate

A study published in the September 22/29 2004 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (jama.ama-assn.org) examined mortality for 2339 senior men and women and concluded that four factors cut mortality risk during a ten year period by more than half of that experienced by those had adopted one or no protective practices. The four factors studied were consumption of a Mediterranean diet, engaging in regular physical activity, moderate use of alcohol, and not smoking.

The so-called Mediterranean diet consists of foods commonly consumed in this region: whole grains, vegetables, nuts, fruits and olive oil. The diet is in contrast with the majority of western diets that contain relatively large amounts of meat, and refined carbohydrates such as white sugar. In another report appearing in the same issue of JAMA, Katherine Esposito MD and colleagues found that the Mediterranean diet reduces metabolic syndrome and improved endothelial function.

The current study, conducted by Kim Knoops MSc of Wageningen University, Netherlands, and colleagues, followed 1507 men and 832 women aged 70 to 90 enrolled in the Survey in Europe on Nutrition and the Elderly: a Concerned Action (SENECA) or the Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Elderly (FINE) studies. The researchers analyzed deaths from all causes, and separately examined deaths from coronary heart disease, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

They found that consuming a Mediterranean diet lowered death by all causes by 23 percent, moderate alcohol use (defined as more than 0 grams per day) was associated with a 22 percent lower risk, regular physical activity (defined as approximately 30 minutes activity per day) conferred at 37 percent lower risk and not smoking was associated with a 35 percent lower risk. These risk reductions remained at similar levels when coronary heart disease, cardiovascular diseases and cancer were separately analyzed. Individuals who had all four of these factors lowered the risk of dying during the study period by 65 percent compared to those who practiced one or none.

In an accompanying editorial in JAMA, Eric B Rimm, ScD and Meir J Stampfer MD write, “Although understanding of the relation of lifestyle and health outcomes will continue to be refined, information available now is sufficient to take action . . . As a society, the United States spends billions on chronic disease treatments and interventions for risk factors. Although these are useful and important, a fraction of that investment to promote healthful lifestyles for primary prevention among individuals at all ages would yield greater benefit.” (JAMA, September 22/29, 2004, vol 292, no 12).

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