Pair of studies indicate that new heart patients may derive previously unknown cardiac benefits from two pillars of the classic Mediterranean diet
by Craig Weatherby
Acute coronary syndrome (ACS) is an umbrella term that covers unstable angina and heart attacks.
Heart attacks and angina alike result in large part from plaque buildup in the heart’s main arteries, which causes ischemic (iss-kee-mik) heart disease: the medical term for reduced blood and oxygen supply to heart muscle.
Now, the results of two new epidemiological studies offer evidence that fatty fish and olive oil alike may sharply reduce ACS patients’ risk of developing a heart-muscle problem called left ventricular systolic dysfunction (LVSD).
They come from a Greek team that’s been doing important work on food factors in heart risk, as we reported several years ago (See “Fish Inhibits Heart-Attacking Inflammation).
Their new findings lend more weight to the many studies suggesting that the idealized “Mediterranean” diet—that is, a diet low in refined foods and high in vegetables, fruits, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, whole grains, and fish—is good for the heart
Fish and olive oil may guard against heart-muscle dysfunction
Researchers from the University of Athens conducted two epidemiological studies that compared heart patients’ diets to their health outcomes over time.
Study #1: Frequent fish linked to 53 percent lower LVSD risk
The Athens team recruited 934 ACS patients, used questionnaires to assess the participants’ diets periodically, and compared those diet reports to the patients’ heart-health outcomes after three years (Kastorini CM et al. 2009).
Compared with people who ate little or no fish, ACS patients who reported moderate fish consumption
—one to two servings per week
—were 53 percent less likely to have developed LVSD.
In addition, moderate fish consumption was associated with greater capacity for the body to produce nitric oxide—a potent antioxidant and vasodilator that relaxes blood vessels and improves blood flow.
The researchers attributed the apparent ability of fish to protect against the development of heart muscle dysfunction to the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the oxidation process and endothelial (artery lining) function.
As they wrote, “We revealed a dose-response association between fish consumption and the likelihood of developing left ventricular systolic dysfunction after an ACS [incident]. In particular, fish consumption of 1 to 2 times per week was independently associated with a considerable reduction of the odds of developing LVSD” (Kastorini CM et al. 2009).
To date, omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to reduced risk of sudden coronary death, ischemic stroke, and second heart attacks.
In turn, these benefits are attributed to omega-3s helpful effects on blood fat levels and profiles, blood stickiness, blood pressure, heart rate, and artery function.
The Greek team estimated that the participants who reported eating fish once or twice a week were averaging about five ounces of fish per week.
Study #2 – Exclusive use of olive oil linked to 65 percent lower LVSD risk
The Greek doctors recruited 653 ACS patients (144 women, 509 men), used questionnaires to assess the participants’ diets periodically, and compared those diet reports to the patients’ heart-health outcomes after one year (Chrysohoou C et al. 2009)
Compared with people who used various cooking oils, new ACS patients who reported using olive oil exclusively were 65 percent less likely to have developed LVSD.
No significant reduction was observed among participants with a previous history of ACS, which suggests that there are limits to what olive oil can do for people who suffer repeated heart attacks.
Unfortunately, the researchers made no distinction between regular, refined oil – which contains no antioxidants – and extra virgin olive oil.
Only extra virgin olive oil retains the whole olive’s super-potent, tyrosol-type antioxidants.
This is why extra virgin olive oil has been clinically proven far superior to refined olive oil for enhancing artery health and reducing inflammation and oxidation in the arteries.
For more on that topic, see “Extra Virgin Olive Oil Confirmed as Best Cardiac Prevention Choice.”
- Kastorini CM, Chrysohoou C, Aggelopoulos P, Panagiotakos D, Pitsavos C, Stefanadis C. Moderate Fish Consumption is Associated with Lower Likelihood of Developing Left Ventricular Systolic Dysfunction in Acute Coronary Syndrome Patients. Journal of Food Science. Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2009.01425.x
- Chrysohoou C, Kastorini CM, Panagiotakos D, Aggelopoulos P, Tsiachris D, Pitsavos C, Stefanadis C. Exclusive Olive Oil Consumption Is Associated with Lower Likelihood of Developing Left Ventricular Systolic Dysfunction in Acute Coronary Syndrome Patients: The Hellenic Heart Failure Study. Ann Nutr Metab. 2009 Nov 27;56(1):9-15. [Epub ahead of print]