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The Mediterranean Diet: Heart Disease Effects

Updated on October 26, 2009

There has been a growing amount of clinical evidence published in the peer reviewed journals as of late showing that the Mediterranean diet benefits individuals suffering from a wide variety of cardiovascular ailments.

A large Italian study called the GISSI-Prevenzione study suggests that the Mediterranean Diet may be particularly beneficial for those who have already had a heart attack. Even though the Mediterranean diet has been associated with prevention of heart disease, few studies have examined the benefit of this diet in patients who have already suffered a heart attack.

The GISSI study examined the dietary habits of 11,324 Italians after their heart attacks tracking their eating habits with questionnaires administered 6, 12, 18 and 24 months after the event. Researchers also assessed the effectiveness of taking vitamins and fish oil capsules containing Omega 3 fatty acids.

In the analysis the researchers divided the participants into five categories based on how much fruit, vegetables, fish, olive oil and butter they consumed. The researchers found that, compared with those who ate a quintessential Mediterranean diet rich in plant foods and olive oil, those who consumed the most butter had a 2.6 greater chance of dying within 42 months after their heart attack.

They also found that taking one gram of omega-3 fatty acid, the kind found in cold water fish and walnuts, could reduce the risk of death by 20 percent.

Even though weight loss is beneficial, this study found that eating the right kinds of foods promotes heart health even in the absence of weight loss, and that these effects extend to obese patients as well.

These results, which were presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions, reaffirm the importance of what we eat and underscore the value of the Mediterranean diet.

We have cholesterol in every cell in our body. Only about 5% of our cholesterol is in our blood. Cholesterol is one of the blood fats or blood lipids. The other main blood lipid is triglyceride. The blood fats do not dissolve in water so we make particles called lipoproteins to carry them. All lipoproteins carry some cholesterol and some triglyceride in varying amounts.

The main carrier of blood cholesterol is low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. LDL is made from another lipoprotein: very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol. VLDL is a large lipoprotein made by the liver to carry mainly triglyceride. The VLDL travels around the body to deliver triglyceride to different cells. When the VLDL loses most of the triglyceride it becomes a smaller lipoprotein that is mainly cholesterol and is the LDL particle. High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is made in the liver and in the intestinal tract. The exact function of HDL is not yet known. It seems to work to bring cholesterol from different parts of the body back to the liver.

When you have your blood lipids measured you will receive a value for total cholesterol, HDL and triglycerides. The total cholesterol equals the cholesterol carried by the HDL, the LDL and the VLDL. The VLDL is mainly triglyceride and can be calculated by dividing the triglyceride by 5. The equation looks like this:

total cholesterol = HDL + LDL + (triglycerides/5)

LDL is always calculated and is done so by rearranging the equation:

LDL= TC - HDL - VLDL (triglyceride/5)

Cholesterol is a significant factor in cardiovascular disease and it's interesting to note that the Mediterranean diet has integral elements to combat this deadly factor.

Continued In The Mediterranean Diet: Walnuts & Cholesterol

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