Mediterranean diet

Dining by the Sea

Today is the final day of Diabetes Awareness Month, so before we
push on into December, we’ll take one more trip to the
Mediterranean.

In the e-Alert “Club Med” (11/24/04), I told you about a Greek
study that found olive oil to be the element in the Mediterranean
diet that may be most responsible for controlling high blood
pressure.

Now a new study from Italy shows that the Mediterranean diet
may also offer significant benefits for diabetics.

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SUNny Italy
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A recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association
carried two studies that revealed benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
The first was conducted by researchers at the Second University of
Naples (SUN) in Italy, who examined the effects of the diet on
adults diagnosed with metabolic syndrome X (MSX).

As I’ve noted in previous e-Alerts, MSX is a combination of
symptoms (such as obesity, insulin resistance, low HDL
cholesterol, elevated triglyceride and C-reactive protein levels,
etc.) that create a high risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. By
some estimates, as many as one out of four adults in the U.S. may
have sets of symptoms that would qualify as a diagnosis of MSX.

The SUN researchers recruited 180 MSX patients, almost evenly
divided between men and women. Half of the group, chosen at
random, agreed to follow a Mediterranean-style diet, and received
instruction on how to adjust their diets to be low in dairy and meat,
and high in fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, whole grains, nuts and
olive oil. The other half of the group followed what the researchers
refer to as a “prudent diet,” consisting of 50-60 percent
carbohydrates, 15-20 percent proteins, and less than 30 percent
total fat.

After following the diets for two years, a series of tests revealed
these changes in the Mediterranean diet subjects compared to
subjects in the prudent diet group:

* Fiber intake was higher
* Omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids ratios were lower
* C-reactive protein and triglyceride levels were lower
* Body weight was significantly lower
* HDL cholesterol increased
* Blood pressure decreased
* Glucose levels decreased
* Insulin resistance decreased

In the end, only 40 subjects in the Mediterranean diet group still
had symptoms that would add up to a diagnosis of MSX, while
nearly twice that number in the prudent diet group continued to
have MSX symptoms.

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Life saver
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The second Mediterranean diet study didn’t focus on MSX or other
diabetic factors, but the results are worth noting to understand how
far reaching the benefits of this diet may be.

Researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands
examined the dietary and medical records of more than 2,300
elderly subjects enrolled in an ongoing study on healthy aging in
several European countries. Mortality causes in this group were
followed over a ten-year period.

It’s not necessarily a surprise that subjects who were physically
active, didn’t smoke, drank alcohol in moderation and adhered to a
Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of all-cause mortality during
the decade. But when risks were examined more specifically,
mortality risks from cancer, cardiovascular diseases and coronary
heart disease were all significantly lower among the subjects who
ate foods consistent with the Mediterranean diet.

Over the years, researchers have wondered if following the
Mediterranean diet in Italy or Greece is comparable to following
this same diet in Kennebunkport or Wichita. Could lifestyle factors
of Mediterranean citizens come into play? Is wine consumption a
factor? Is the air healthier? Is it something in the water? Or
something that’s NOT in the water?

The jury is still out on those considerations. What’s irrefutable is
that most of us would benefit from a diet that includes plenty of
fresh whole foods, more dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids,
and a minimum of processed foods – especially refined, simple
carbohydrates.

And to add one timely note: Last week, the foremost U.S.
proponent of the Mediterranean diet passed away. Ancel Keys was
a University of Minnesota public health scientist who spent a good
deal of time in his second home in Italy.

Keys’ diet apparently served him well. He was 100 years old.

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and another thing
I’ll bet things are a little frosty around the workplace for David
Graham these days.

Mr. Graham is the associate director of the Office of Drug Safety
for the FDA. And although you may not recognize his name, you
probably saw him recently on the evening news after he appeared
before the Senate Finance Committee and threw his agency to the
wolves, along with five popular drugs that he said should be
avoided because of safety concerns. He charged that the FDA is
ignoring these concerns.

I’ve got a hunch he’s probably not going to be asked to play Santa
at the office Christmas party this year.

When the news about Mr. Graham’s testimony broke, a friend of
mine sent me an e-mail with an Associated Press report about the
list of five dangerous drugs, which included the cholesterol-
lowering drug Crestor. And you can file this one under “You can’t
make this stuff up”: The top of the AP report carried a banner
advertisement for – yep – Crestor.

D’oh!

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute

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Sources:
“Draft Report of the 26th Session of the Codex Committee on
Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses” Codex Alimentarius
Commission, Bonn, Germany, November 1-5, 2004,
ahha.org/codexguidelines

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