Past studies have suggested that following a Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Now, a new analysis of previous research suggests that the diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, may reduce the risk of peripheral artery disease. This is according to a research letter published in the journal JAMA.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition in which fatty deposits build up in the arteries, restricting blood supply to the arms, legs, stomach or kidneys.

According to the research team, led by Miguel Ruiz-Canela of the University of Navarra in Spain, their study is the first to find a link between a Mediterranean diet and PAD, although the team notes that this same research linked the diet to a reduced risk of stroke and heart attack.

To reach their findings, the investigators analyzed 7,477 participants. Men were aged between 55 and 80 years, while women were aged between 60 and 80 years.

All participants had no sign of PAD or baseline cardiovascular disease, but they did have type 2 diabetes or a minimum of three other cardiovascular risk factors.

The subjects were randomized to one of three diet groups:

  • A Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil
  • A Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts, or
  • A low-fat diet with counseling.

All participants were followed from the baseline of the study in 2003 to December 2010 and received a detailed dietary educational program every 3 months.

At the midpoint of the study (4.8 years), 89 of the participants developed PAD.

However, the researchers found that groups who followed the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts had a significantly lower risk of developing PAD, compared with the group following the low-fat diet.

Commenting on their findings, the study authors say:

To our knowledge, this is the first randomized primary prevention trial to suggest an association between a dietary intervention and PAD.

These results are consistent with previous observational studies and relevant from a public health perspective.”

The investigators note that they did not set out to find a link between a Mediterranean diet and reduced risk of PAD, therefore their latest findings are only an exploratory analysis.

The Mediterranean diet mainly consists of foods low in saturated fat, high in monounsaturated fat and high in dietary fiber.

This includes a high consumption of beans, nuts, cereals and seeds, cheese and yogurt as the main sources of dairy foods, moderate amounts of fish and poultry, small amounts of red meat and low to moderate amounts of red wine.

Following a Mediterranean diet has been linked to many health benefits. Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that the diet, supplemented with extra virgin olive oil and nuts, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Other studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to overall better health and longer lifespan, and research has also claimed the diet can help preserve memory and thinking abilities.