Mediterranean Diet Reduces Risk of Early Death in Women

Women who adhered to a Mediterranean diet lived much longer than others who didn’t, a new study found.

According to the study, which followed more than 25,000 women for 25 years, higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with one-fifth lower relative risk of mortality, which could be partially explained by multiple cardiometabolic risk factors.

Surprising Results

In the study, published Friday in JAMA Network Open, researchers examined medical data and dietary information of 25,315 women between 1993 and 1996. Then, they reevaluated those women’s data between 2018 and 2023.

The results showed that closely following a Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of early death by 23%. Furthermore, it cut the risk of dying from cancer by 17%, and dying from cardiovascular disease by 20%.

Senior study author and cardiologist Dr. Samia Mora told CNN in an email: “For women interested in longevity, our study shows that following a Mediterranean dietary pattern could result in about one quarter reduction in risk of death over more than 25 years with benefit for both cancer and cardiovascular mortality, the top causes of death.”

Increased Benefit

The study lead author and associate professor of molecular epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden, Shafqat Ahmad, pointed to the increased benefits of following a Mediterranean diet.

He told CNN: “There was a graded stepwise increase in benefit — the more committed the more benefit.” Ahmad explained that each increase in adherence to this dietary style was associated with a 6% lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 5% reduced risk of dying from either heart disease or cancer.

What is a Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds, as well as small quantities of nuts and healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil. It discourages the use of other fats, such as butter, in addition to sugar and refined or processed foods.

It carefully uses red meat. At the same time, it increases emphasis on eating healthy oily fish, which contain Omega-3 fatty acids. Also, eggs, dairy and poultry are consumed in smaller portions than in the traditional Western diet.

Mediterranean Diet Reduces Risk of Early Death in Women
Mediterranean Diet

Dr. David Katz, a specialist in preventive and lifestyle medicine, said: “In this study, adherence to the Mediterranean diet was a proxy for diet quality. Those who adhered most closely were eating more legumes, more vegetables, more fruits, less meat, and less processed meats.”

Healthy Choice

The study results align with previous studies that showed the benefits of healthy diets, including the Mediterranean diet.

In this respect, Dr. Katz said: “The finding is entirely consistent with many other studies of the now famously healthful Mediterranean diet.” He added: “We may be comfortable inferring that a high-quality diet did, indeed, ‘cause’ a lower risk of death.”

Katz noted that the study corrects the “distortions” of the Mediterranean diet. He said: “In the US, simply adding olive oil to French fries might result in someone claiming to be ‘on’ the Mediterranean diet.” However, the study corrects this by looking at all the “key features of a ‘true’ Mediterranean diet, and thus precludes that kind of misrepresentation,” he said.

Studying Women

The Mediterranean diet has a long list of renowned scientific benefits. It may lower the risk for breast cancer, dementia, depression, diabetes, high cholesterol and memory loss.

Furthermore, adherence to this eating style can result in stronger bones, a healthier heart and a longer life. It is also a great choice for healthy weight loss. However, all these data have few details on how the Mediterranean diet may affect women.

Women have different characteristics than men. A woman’s brain functions differently on a molecular level than a man’s brain. The size of a woman’s heart can vary from a man’s heart, and women can show different symptoms for a heart attack than men. The way women metabolize medications is different from men. Additionally, factors like menarche and menopause create an entire category of health risks specific to women.

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