Mediterranean Diet May Help Lower Risk Of Diabetes
March 29, 2014

Diabetes Risk May Be Lower For Those On A Mediterranean Diet

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Diabetes affects millions of people globally. The International Diabetes Federation's Diabetes Atlas reports that 382 million are affected worldwide, with 80 percent of those being found in low- and middle-income countries. Type 2 diabetes, especially, is on the rise in every country. For those with diabetes, or with a high risk of developing it, diet becomes especially important.

A new study, which will be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Sessions this weekend, reveals that eating a Mediterranean diet is linked to a lower risk of developing diabetes, especially among those with a high risk of cardiovascular disease.

The research team pooled and analyzed data from studies that evaluated the possible role of the Mediterranean diet on the development of diabetes. They found that adhering to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a 21 percent reduction in the risk of developing diabetes when compared to the control dietary groups. Among people at high risk for cardiovascular disease, the reduction of risk for diabetes was even more pronounced, at approximately 27 percent reduction in risk. Reducing the risk of diabetes is especially important for this group of people. The American Heart Association rates diabetes as one of the seven major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and notes that heart disease and stroke are the number one causes of death among people with Type 2 diabetes.

"Adherence to the Mediterranean diet may prevent the development of diabetes irrespective of age, sex, race or culture," said Demosthenes Panagiotakos, Ph.D., professor at Harokopio University, Athens, Greece. "This diet has a beneficial effect, even in high risk groups, and speaks to the fact that it is never too late to start eating a healthy diet."

The meta-analysis consisted of reviewing 19 original research studies. These studies followed over 162,000 people an average of 5.5 years, spanning European and non-European populations. This mixture of populations is especially important, according to Panagiotakos, because most published studies have been from European populations only, leading to questions of confounding factors in these regions. Such confounding factors include genetics, the environment, lifestyle and lower stress levels.

The research team found that the association between the Mediterranean diet and the lowered risk of diabetes remained across all populations—European, non-European, high or low risk of cardiovascular disease.

There is no set “Mediterranean diet,” however, it is generally heavy in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil and even a glass of red wine. The Mayo Clinic also recommends cooking these foods in the traditional ways of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Recommendations for following this diet include limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month, eating fish and poultry at least twice a week, and using spices and herbs to flavor food, rather than salt.

"A meta-analysis captures the limitations of individual studies, and this type of study is important to help inform guidelines and evidence-based care," Panagiotakos said. "Diabetes is an ongoing epidemic and its relation to obesity, especially in the Westernized populations, is well known. We have to do something to prevent diabetes and changing our diet may be an effective treatment."

Over the last 30 years, the number of diabetes cases has doubled globally and researchers have linked it to the growing obesity epidemic. Diabetics have trouble controlling their blood sugar, either because they do not produce the hormone insulin or their bodies are unable to use it properly. Uncontrolled diabetes leads to complications such as blindness, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease and amputations.

Panagiotakos believes that the Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of diabetes because it helps to guard against obesity. Previous studies have shown that the diet is linked to weight loss, reduced risk of heart disease and related death, lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.

The meta-analysis initially identified more than 400 related studies, but excluded the majority of them based on set criteria and study designs. Studies not actually addressing the key issue of diet and diabetes, for example, were excluded even though they were identified through key words used, lack of a control group or randomization, inclusion of people with diabetes or prediabetes or limiting the study only to a component of the traditional Mediterranean diet. In the remaining studies, food frequency questionnaires and 24-hour or three-day recall was used to assess diet.