Researchers in Canada studied the impact of a personalised fitness regime and a Mediterranean-style diet on volunteers with pre-clinical 'risk factors' for heart cardiovascular disease.
Nearly one in three annual global deaths, about 16.7 million, result from various forms of cardiovascular disease, many of which are preventable by action on the major primary risk factors: unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and smoking.
Scientists at the University of Western Ontario found that some "structural and functional measures" of heard disease risk may improve after just two months of following the Mediterranean diet and exercise regime.
This diet is generally defined as one rich in plant foods and fish, low in meat and dairy products, and with a high ratio of monounsaturated fatty acids to polyunsaturated fatty acids.
"Our lifestyle management program appears to improve the health of the vasculature, so it might lower the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks and stroke," said lead author Kunihiko Aizawa, presenting the findings last week at a conference on arteriosclerosis, thrombosis and vascular biology in the US.
The researchers claim that while a large number of studies have looked at the effect of more general diets and exercise on heart disease, this latest study prescribed "individually tailored" physical regimes and diets to participants in a "family practice setting", not a laboratory or hospital.
The Canadian scientists tracked 38 patients with high-normal blood pressure (systolic greater than 130 mmHg to 139 mmHg, diastolic greater than 85 mmHg to 89 mmHg) or pre-diabetes indicated by impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance. The average age of patients was 53.3 years.
They found that the 22 female and 16 male participants lost weight and improved their exercise capacity on the programme. "We were surprised that we saw such a weight reduction with the Mediterranean diet," Petrella said.
Blood pressure did not change significantly, the scientists report.
Ultrasound measurements of the heart and blood vessels at rest were performed as well. The brachial (arm) and carotid (neck) arteries were tested for intima-media thickness and arterial distensibility. Both reflect the health of the blood vessels. The thicker and less distensible (elastic) the arteries are, the greater the load on the heart. This often results from changes in blood pressure, blood glucose or cholesterol disorders such as dyslipidemia.
· Carotid artery distensibility was the only structural factor that significantly improved. It rose about 16 per cent. Petrella said that the other factors may improve as patients are followed for one year.
Mounting evidence suggests a kaleidoscope of Mediterranean ingredients in a daily diet can actively boost health, in particular in preventing cardiovascular disease, the number one global killer, as well as certain cancers and could even play a role in reducing Alzheimer's disease.
Tomatoes, for example, are packed with the health-promoting antioxidant lycopene, a carotenoid attracting growing attention in recent years due to research linking it to reduction in cancer risk, especially prostate cancer. New findings also suggest that it could have a protective effect on heart disease, the cause of more deaths among women than any other disease.
A recent report on the $348.5 million (€291.4m) carotenoid market from market analysts Frost & Sullivan revealed that the European food and health industry has 'under-utilised' the nutraceutical properties of carotenoids, and consumers are still unaware of their health benefits.
And contributing to a raft of studies on olive oil, recent research suggests that consumption of olive oil is inversely associated with blood pressure. Olive oil has been shown to have a beneficial effect on blood lipids but the new study, reported in the October issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (vol 80, no 4, 1012-1018), suggests that it could act in several different ways to protect people from heart disease.
UN-backed World Health Organisation claims that by 2010, CVD will be the leading cause of death in developing countries.