It is often seen as a male problem, but coronary heart disease kills more than twice as many women as breast cancer in the United Kingdom each year, said Victoria Taylor, a senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, who was not involved in the study.
The new research analyzed 16 studies to find that women who follow a Mediterranean diet more closely than others did had a 24-percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease. They also had a 23-percent lower risk of mortality, said the report published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed medical journal Heart.
The report, led by researchers at the University of Sydney, describes the diet as high in unprocessed plant foods and low in red or processed meat and dairy. It also features whole grains, vegetables, fruit and nuts — and extra virgin olive oil as the preferred main source of dietary fat.
The challenge of caring for women’s hearts
While studies have looked at the impact of such diets on cardiovascular diseases, this has not typically centered on women, the authors said.
“So this really confirmed that a Med diet was equally beneficially in women as it has been known to be in men,” Sarah Zaman, one of the authors and a principal research fellow at the University of Sydney’s Westmead Applied Research Centre, told Australian TV.
The researchers acknowledged the limitations of their work, including that the studies were largely observational and dependent on self reporting of food intake. They said, however, it “highlights the need to include sex specific analysis in research and translate such findings into clinical practice guidelines.”
The observational studies meant they could not show cause and effect, and the reliance on self reporting is “a regular problem with dietary studies that can affect reliability of results,” Taylor said in an email. Nonetheless, “sex-specific research like this is vital for reducing the heart disease gender gap and improving women’s care,” she said.
“It’s long been known that eating a Mediterranean-style is good for your heart, but it’s encouraging to see this research suggest that when we look at women separately from men, the benefits remain,” Taylor said.
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