Mediterranean diet linked to reduced associated risk of premature death

A Mediterranean-style diet with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish is shown against a kitchen counter.

A Women’s Health Initiative study links a Mediterranean-style diet to a reduced risk of premature death, according to research published in JAMA Network Open. While these associations have been identified before, this study is one of the first to identify cardiovascular health factors that may help explain these connections.  

For this study, more than 25,000 middle-age women had a baseline check-in between 1993-1996, provided blood samples, and were followed for nearly 25 years. Throughout this period, researchers collected information about the women’s health, medical history, and diet. A Mediterranean diet is one type of heart-healthy eating pattern characterized by meals that center around vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, fish, and heart-healthy fats, such as avocado, and reduced intake of red and processed meats. 

Throughout the study, 3,879 deaths occurred, including 935 related to cardiovascular disease and 1,531 related to cancer. Researchers adjusted for multiple factors, including age, underlying health conditions, medications, smoking status, and physical activity. They found that women who closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet had reduced associated risks for overall death compared to those least likely to follow this type of eating pattern. 

After assessing for multiple health indicators, they found that body weight and small molecules representative of metabolic health, reduced inflammation, and blood sugar-control had the strongest associations for the observed risk reduction. The study was supported by NHLBI and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.