In advice that many American have taken to heart, Hippocrates wrote, “Let food be thy medicine.” In fact, diets to reduce chronic inflammation–which is linked to disorders ranging from heart attacks and strokes to type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even cancer–have become a health craze.
However, there’s debate about which eating plan–and foods–offers the greatest cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory benefits. Here’s a look at some new and recent research findings.
A plant-based vegan diet may be more effective than the American Heart Association (AHA) diet in reducing cardiovascular risks in children.
In a new study published in Journal of Pediatrics, 28 obese children, ages 9 to 18, with high cholesterol were randomly assigned–along with a parent–to either follow a strict plant-based diet with no added fat or the AHA diet, which also includes low-fat dairy products, certain plant oils, and moderate amounts of lean meat and fish.
After a month, the vegan group showed significant improvements in nine measures: systolic blood pressure, weight, mid-arm circumference, total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, insulin, and two inflammatory markers of heart disease risk: myeloperoxidase (MPO) and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP). Those who followed the AHA diet only improved in four measures: weight, waist and mid-arm circumferences, and MPO levels.
“Cardiovascular disease (CVD) begins in childhood,” points out lead study author Michael Macknin, MD, a staff pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic. “If we can see such significant improvements in a short four-week study, imagine the potential for improving long-term health into adulthood if a whole population of children began to eat these diets regularly.”
The Mediterranean diet fights inflammation, lowers heart attack and stroke risk, and may even lengthen life.
In the first randomized clinical trial of the Mediterranean diet, which is high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, olive oil and even moderate amounts of red wine for adults, this results were so dramatic that the trial had to be halted early (after 4.8 years).
Compared to a low-diet, the Mediterranean diet reduced risk for major cardiovascular events (such as heart attack, stroke or death from cardiac causes) by 30 percent, the researchers reported in 2013 in New England Journal of Medicine. Other benefits include the following:
- The more closely women follow a Mediterranean diet, the longer their telomere length, according to a 2014 study published in British Medical Journal. The researchers examined data from 4,676 healthy women participating in the Nurses’ Health study. Shortening of telomeres–the protective caps at the end of chromosomes that have been compared to the plastic tips on shoelaces–has been shown to be accelerated by inflammation, decreased life expectancy, and higher risk for developing chronic diseases. An advanced blood test is now available to measure the percentage of short telomeres.
- Moderate consumption of wine has powerful anti-inflammatory benefits and helps protect against CVD. For example, a 2014 study found that drinking a glass of wine with either a Mediterranean meal or a McDonald’s meal reduced levels of oxidized LDL (OxLDL) As we reported recently, high levels of OxLDL (which can be measured with a simple blood test) may quadruple risk for heart disease and more than triple it for metabolic syndrome.
- Eating the Mediterranean way improves several markers of CV risks, including levels of inflammatory markers, waist-to-hip ratio in women, and cholesterol levels. What’s more it may also help prevent breast cancer, depression, colon cancer, obesity, asthma, erectile dysfunction, and cognitive decline, according to a 2014 review published in American Journal of Medicine.