NEW YORK (Reuters Health)
— People who eat a Mediterranean diet high in olive oil or
nuts may reduce their likelihood of developing clogged leg arteries,
according to new research from Spain.
The finding follows results from the same trial
published last year that showed sticking to a Mediterranean diet
could lower the risk of heart attack and stroke (see Reuters Health
story of Feb. 25, 2013, here: http://reut.rs/1hxUexN).
"Now we have this very strong reduction in the risk of peripheral
artery disease," Dr. Miguel Martínez-González, from the University
of Navarra in Pamplona, told Reuters Health. "This is very
Peripheral artery disease arises when plaque builds up in the
arteries that carry blood to the legs and feet, restricting blood
flow. The condition often causes leg pain and fatigue, especially
The current trial, Martínez-González said, is the first to randomly
assign people without heart disease to a Mediterranean or other diet
and see how they fare.
He and his colleagues allocated 7,477 older Spaniards to one of
three diet plans: a Mediterranean-style diet supplemented with
extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet with extra nuts or a
standard low-fat diet.
Participants met with a dietician four times each year to review
their eating habits and set goals for how to follow their prescribed
diet more closely. The researchers also gave them shopping lists,
menus and recipes as well as free olive oil or nuts for those
assigned to the Mediterranean diets.
Although none of the participants had heart disease at the start of
the study, all were deemed to be at risk because they had diabetes
or a combination of other risk factors.
Over an average of almost five years, 89 people in the study
developed peripheral artery disease. That included 18 in the olive
oil group, 26 in the nuts group and 45 in the low-fat comparison
group, the researchers wrote in the Journal of the American Medical
They found the Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil cut
people's risk of peripheral artery disease by 64 percent, and the
one with extra nuts cut the risk in half.
But because the condition was relatively rare, they calculated that
more than 300 people would have to eat a Mediterranean-style diet
instead of a low-fat one to prevent one case of peripheral artery
The authors cautioned that because they didn't originally set out to
measure the risk of peripheral artery disease, their study is just a
first shot at looking at how it may be influenced by diet.
Andrew Gardner, who has studied diet and peripheral artery
disease at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in
Oklahoma City, agreed that's a limitation of the new study. It also
only counted the disease in people who had symptoms, he noted.
"At least it's a step in the right direction recognizing that diet
may have an important role in developing peripheral artery disease
and then certainly once you have it, it may affect the way the
symptoms progress," Gardner, who wasn't involved in the new
research, told Reuters Health. "This is a study that is very timely
and long overdue."
Martínez-González said it makes sense that if a Mediterranean
diet can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, it can affect
other diseases related to clogged arteries — possibly by lowering
inflammation and improving cholesterol numbers.
"From a biological, mechanistic point of view, the underlying
disease process for peripheral artery disease is exactly the same as
for stroke or (heart attack). It is atherosclerosis, or disease of
the arteries," he said.
When it comes to adopting a Mediterranean-style diet,
Martínez-González suggested people start with what's easiest for
them — like drinking a glass of red wine each night or eating more
vegetables prepared with olive oil. Other healthy changes include
substituting poultry and fish for red meat and having fruit for
dessert instead of sweets on most days, he said.