Mediterranean diet reduces risk of heart disease, death in women

15 March 2023
Study fills crucial data gap in women’s health
A world-first look at the effect of the Mediterranean diet in women confirms it lowers risk of heart disease and death and should be recommended for prevention.

A University of Sydney-led review into the benefits of the Mediterranean diet in women has found women who followed a Mediterranean diet had up to 24 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 23 percent lower risk of death.

The researchers say to their knowledge this study is the first review to examine the association between the Mediterranean diet, cardiovascular disease and mortality specifically in women.

The findings, published in Heart Journal, examined data from 16 published studies where women were following the Mediterranean diet. The studies were between 2006 and 2021 and involved over 722,000 female participants.

Interestingly, further analysis of data found similar reduced risk applied in women of all ethnicities, with women of European descent having a 24 percent lower risk, and women of non-European descent (Asian, Native Hawaiian and African American) having a 21 percent lower risk.

In medical research, there are sex disparities in how clinical trials are designed. This creates large gaps in clinical data, which can potentially impact the development of health advice.
PhD candidate Ms Anushriya Pant

The results will be invaluable in updating the dietary and clinical guideline recommendations such as the Australian dietary guidelines for diets in women, particularly to help prevent heart disease. The latest report comparing Australian women’s diet to national dietary guidelines found less than 1 in 13 Australian women are meeting fruit and vegetable intake guidelines.

University of Sydney PhD candidate at the Westmead Applied Research Centre, Ms Anushriya Pant said a Mediterranean diet – high in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, with a moderate intake of seafood and lean protein is known for its heart health benefits but its impact by sex in clinical trials has never been explored.

“The Mediterranean diet is known for its health benefits, especially for heart health, but most studies and research into diet and heart disease are done primarily in men,” said Ms Pant, who led the analysis.

“Now we have confirmed that similar benefits apply for women’s dietary guidelines, and this reflects the strength of the Mediterranean diet for good heart health.

“In medical research, there are sex disparities in how clinical trials are designed. This creates large gaps in clinical data, which can potentially impact the development of health advice.

“Our work is a step towards addressing this gap.”

Heart disease is the primary cause of death globally.

However, there are sex disparities in the treatment and diagnosis of heart diseases, and there are growing international calls for sex-specific cardiovascular research.

The Mediterranean diet has been of increasing interest because of its association with heart health.

“A healthy diet is a huge factor in preventing heart disease,” said senior author Associate Professor Sarah Zaman, from the University of Sydney Westmead Applied Research Centre and a Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow.

“However current guidelines on preventing heart disease lack sex-specific recommendations. Historically research trials and studies have had predominantly male participants, or lacked sex-specific analysis.”

“Our results will pave the way to bridge this gap, and also highlights the need for more research to ensure health guidelines and policies include diverse perspectives.”

Declaration: No funding was received for this study. Associate Professor Sarah Zaman was supported by a Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellowship for their work. The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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