Mediterranean diet 'better than drugs' for treating heart disease
A Mediterranean diet could be better than statins at reducing the risk of an early death for thousands of Irish people, research suggests.
Leading heart experts said patients should be prescribed the diet - rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and olive oil - before being put on drugs.
In the first major study to look at the impact of the Med diet on survival of heart patients, experts found it cut the chances of early death by 37pc.
Previous research has found just taking statins cuts mortality by 18pc. Experts said the figures were not directly comparable, and that many heart patients could get maximum benefit by doing both.
The major contributors to mortality risk reduction were a higher consumption of vegetables, fish, fruits, nuts and monounsaturated fatty acids - that means olive oil
But they said the results were so remarkable that governments should consider handing out free fruit and vegetables, or subsidising such produce, to encourage the public to change its eating habits.
The diet regime is already known to have a powerful protective effect against diseases including diabetes and cancer.
Experts hailed the new findings, presented at the world's biggest heart conference in Rome, Italy, as "extraordinary", showing that the diet was "more powerful than any drug".
High consumption of vegetables had the greatest impact on survival, followed by oily fish intake, amount of fruit eaten, and consumption of mono-unsaturated fat, found in olive oil.
More than 10,000 people in Ireland die each year from heart disease.
Professor Giovanni de Gaetano, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the IRCCS Neuromed Institute in Pozzilli, Italy, said: "We found that among those with a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet, death from any cause was reduced by 37pc in comparison to those who poorly adhered to this dietary regime."
The study tracked 1,200 Italians with heart disease over seven years.
Professor de Gaetano said: "The Mediterranean diet is widely recognised as one of the healthier nutrition habits in the world.
"Many scientific studies have shown a traditional Mediterranean lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of various chronic diseases and, more importantly, of death from any cause.
"But so far research has focused on the general population, which is mainly composed of healthy people. What happens to people who have already suffered from cardiovascular disease? Is the Mediterranean diet optimal for them too?"
He said the research suggested exactly this, with the Med diet showing a "powerful" effect, cutting deaths from all causes. (© Daily Telegraph, London)