This Diet May Lower Risk of Clogged Leg Arteries
Study of older adults found reduced odds of peripheral artery disease when compared to low-fat diet
By Amy Norton
TUESDAY, Jan. 21, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Older adults who eat a Mediterranean diet may lower their risk of developing painful narrowing of the arteries in the legs, new research indicates.
The findings, published Jan. 22 in of Journal of the American Medical Association, come from what's thought to be the first clinical trial to test whether Mediterranean-style eating can ward off cardiovascular disease in people at increased risk.
Last year, researchers reported the main finding from the study: Older adults who adopted a Mediterranean diet -- rich in olive oil, nuts, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish -- cut their risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke by about 30 percent over five years.
Now the new findings suggest the benefit extends to peripheral artery disease as well, said researcher Dr. Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, a professor at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain.
Estimated to affect 8 million people in the United States alone, peripheral artery disease arises when artery-clogging "plaques" restrict blood flow in the legs. People often go for years without any symptoms, Martinez-Gonzalez noted, but as the condition progresses, it can cause painful cramps during walking -- what doctors call "claudication."
In this study, older adults who maintained a Mediterranean diet were one-half to two-thirds less likely to develop painful peripheral artery disease, compared to those who tried to follow a low-fat regimen.
Martinez-Gonzalez said the findings give "robust support" to the notion that Mediterranean-style eating helps keep the arteries healthy.
The diet differs in key ways from the modern-day "Western" style of eating -- which typically features a lot of sugar- and salt-added processed foods and saturated fat from red meat and butter. The Mediterranean diet includes few of those foods, and while it's fairly high in fat, the fat is mainly the heart-healthy, unsaturated sort from olive oil, nuts and fish.
Experts have long known that people who stick to a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of heart attack and death from heart disease. But it hadn't been clear whether the diet, itself, deserved the credit.
To rigorously test that idea, Martinez-Gonzalez and his colleagues recruited nearly 7,500 adults aged 55 to 80 who were at increased risk of developing clogged arteries -- because they had either diabetes or multiple other risk factors, like obesity or smoking.
The researchers randomly assigned the men and women into three groups. One group was told to follow a low-fat diet, while the other two received counseling from a dietitian on Mediterranean-style eating. Along with the advice, one group was given a weekly supply of extra-virgin olive oil and was told to use at least four tablespoons a day. The other group received a regular supply of mixed nuts (walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts), and was told to toss back an ounce each day.