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Heart Disease Health Center

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Mediterranean Diet Helps Offset Bad Genes

Study Shows Mediterranean Diet Boosts Heart Health in People Genetically Wired for Poor Heart Health


To measure heart rate variation, all twins had their heart’s electrical activity continuously measured and recorded with a Holter monitor, a portable, battery-operated electrocardiogram device.

Findings showed that the more a person’s diet resembled a Mediterranean-style diet, the more variable the heart beat-to-beat time interval -- 10% to 58% (depending on the HRV measure considered) for men in the top Mediterranean diet score quarter compared to those in the lowest quarter; this equates to a 9% to 14 % reduction in heart-related death.

Genetic influence on heart rate variability frequency ranged from 20% to 95%, depending on the heart rate variability measure considered.

“Our findings suggest that autonomic tone may be one of the mechanisms linking the Mediterranean diet to a lower rate of cardiovascular events,” authors concluded in the study.

Dai said in a telephone interview that the findings show that despite a person’s genetic makeup, he can still take actions to positively affect his health. Even if you don’t have good genes, you can still choose a healthy diet and that will give you a greater likelihood of having “good heart autonomic function,” she said.

The study had several limitations. Because participants were mostly white, middle-aged men, it may not be possible to generalize the results to women or other ethnic groups, the researchers note. The food frequency questionnaires may have also underestimated the amount of foods and nutrients participants actually ate.

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