Living the sunny Mediterranean lifestyle in Israel is a heart-healthier way to keep one's arteries limber for longer, according to a new study conducted by a team of researchers from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, the medical clinic at the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona, and Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva.
The two-year study, led by Dr. Iris Shai with the assistance of Dr. Dan Schwarzfuchs, found that a long-term weight loss program using a healthy diet strategy – such as a Mediterranean food plan – can reverse carotid atherosclerosis (arterial clogging). The findings were published in the current issue of Circulation, the leading medical journal of the American Heart Association.
Carotid atherosclerosis is the hardening of the main brain artery, a condition which can cause strokes and heart attacks.
Researchers used three-dimensional ultrasound imaging techniques to measure changes in the thickening of the plaque lining the carotid artery vessel, at the beginning of the study and again after two years. During the study, moderately overweight, mostly male participants were divided into three groups and placed on different diets.
The weight loss programs involved a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-fat diet, and a “Mediterranean diet” that focused on glycemic control. In general, people who live in the Mediterranean region are known for eating foods that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, and low in refined sugars and oils. Such a diet is relatively low in red meat and includes a liberal daily amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, together with fresh dairy products, cold-pressed unrefined olive oil, tehina (made from crushed sesame seeds, high in calcium, and fresh garlic, fresh lemon juice and olive oil) and hummus (made from prepared tehina and cooked, pureed chick peas, high in vegetable protein).
Researchers found that after two years, there was a five percent drop in the average carotid vessel-wall volume, and a one percent decrease in carotid artery thickness.
Participants with decreases had significantly greater weight loss (11.7 pounds) than those who experienced an increased carotid wall volume (7 pounds). There were also positive changes in blood pressure, cholesterol levels and homocysteine levels, an amino acid in the blood related to the risk of strong or heart attack.