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The Mediterranean Diet and Genetics



We know that following the Mediterranean Diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease, improve your cholesterol scores, and help you live longer, but what we don't know is WHY that is. Research studies have suggested that the Mediterranean Diet helps to reduce the systemic inflammation which has been identified as a major risk of heart disease, but the results of those studies have been inconsistent at best. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta noted that these inconsistent results might be due to the fact that each study focused on a different European population, including Italy, Germany, and Spain.

Could the differences be due to genetic factors?

The researchers designed a study (Circulation 2008;117(2);169-175) utilizing participants in the Twins Heart Study - a group of pairs of male identical twins born between 1946 and 1956, who in 1990 were free of symptoms of cardiovascular disease. (Since twins are genetically identical, it is easy to see whether a result is due to genetic or behavioral reasons.) Each twin completed a dietary questionnaire which measured their adherence to the nine components of the Mediterranean Diet: the higher their score, the more they adhered to the Mediterranean Diet.

Each subject also provided information regarding their smoking status and their customary level of exercise, then their waist-to-hip ratio was measured as well as their blood pressure. Blood tests provided information on each individual's blood glucose levels, cholesterol levels, and markers of inflammation.

Analysis of the relationship between each subject's Mediterranean Diet score and their blood tests showed that a higher Mediterranean Diet score was strongly related to lower levels of the markers of inflammation. In fact, a single point increase in a subject's dietary score, when compared to their twin, meant about an 8% reduction in the more sensitive markers of inflammation.

What this means for you

It's clear from this study that the effects of the Mediterranean Diet are due to the diet itself and not a person's individual genetic makeup. Since a single point in your adherence to the Mediterranean Diet can have such a big impact on your risk of heart disease, why not take a look at the nine components of the Mediterranean Diet and make that single point difference today?

First posted: January 16, 2008