Rees K, Hartley L, Flowers N, Clarke A, Hooper L, Thorogood M, Stranges S. 'Mediterranean' dietary pattern for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Aug 12;8:CD009825. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009825

BACKGROUND: The Seven Countries study in the 1960s showed that populations in the Mediterranean region experienced lower cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality probably as a result of different dietary patterns. Later observational studies have confirmed the benefits of adherence to a Mediterranean dietary pattern on CVD risk factors. Clinical trial evidence is limited, and is mostly in secondary prevention.

OBJECTIVES: To determine the effectiveness of a Mediterranean dietary pattern for the primary prevention of CVD.

We searched the following electronic databases: the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, Issue 9 of 12, September 2012); MEDLINE (Ovid, 1946 to October week 1 2012); EMBASE (Ovid, 1980 to 2012 week 41); ISI Web of Science (1970 to 16 October 2012); Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE), Health Technology Assessment Database and Health Economics Evaluations Database (Issue 3 of 12, September 2012). We searched trial registers and reference lists of reviews and applied no language restrictions.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We selected randomised controlled trials in healthy adults and adults at high risk of CVD. A Mediterranean dietary pattern was defined as comprising at least two of the following components: (1) high monounsaturated/saturated fat ratio, (2) low to moderate red wine consumption, (3) high consumption of legumes, (4) high consumption of grains and cereals, (5) high consumption of fruits and vegetables, (6) low consumption of meat and meat products and increased consumption of fish, and (7) moderate consumption of milk and dairy products. The comparison group received either no intervention or minimal intervention. Outcomes included clinical events and CVD risk factors.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently extracted data and contacted chief investigators to request additional relevant information.

MAIN RESULTS: We included 11 trials (15 papers) (52,044 participants randomised). Trials were heterogeneous in the participants recruited, in the number of dietary components and follow-up periods. Seven trials described the intervention as a Mediterranean diet. Clinical events were reported in only one trial (Women's Health Initiative 48,835 postmenopausal women, intervention not described as a Mediterranean diet but increased fruit and vegetable and cereal intake) where no statistically significant effects of the intervention were seen on fatal and non-fatal endpoints at eight years. Small reductions in total cholesterol (-0.16 mmol/L, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.26 to -0.06; random-effects model) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (-0.07 mmol/L, 95% CI -0.13 to -0.01) were seen with the intervention. Subgroup analyses revealed statistically significant greater reductions in total cholesterol in those trials describing the intervention as a Mediterranean diet (-0.23 mmol/L, 95% CI -0.27 to -0.2) compared with control (-0.06 mmol/L, 95% CI -0.13 to 0.01). Heterogeneity precluded meta-analyses for other outcomes. Reductions in blood pressure were seen in three of five trials reporting this outcome. None of the trials reported adverse events.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The limited evidence to date suggests some favourable effects on cardiovascular risk factors. More comprehensive interventions describing themselves as the Mediterranean diet may produce more beneficial effects on lipid levels than those interventions with fewer dietary components. More trials are needed to examine the impact of heterogeneity of both participants and the intervention on outcomes.

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