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Study Reveals how a Mediterranean Diet Boosts Heart Health

Update Date: May 20, 2014 01:54 PM EDT

Several studies have concluded that eating a Mediterranean diet can boost heart health and lower risk of cardiovascular diseases. Now in a new study, researchers used mice models to examine just how this type of diet protects the heart. They reported that the key is in the combination of the fats and the vegetables.

A Mediterranean diet is composed mostly of fish, nuts, vegetables, fruits and olive oil. The lead researcher Philip Eaton, a professor of cardiovascular biochemistry at Kings College London, explained that "when unsaturated fatty acids, found in olive, nuts and fish oils, are eaten together with a source of nitrate or nitrite, found in vegetables such as beetroot and those with green leaves, they form nitro fatty acids in the body. The nitro fatty acids help reduce blood pressure levels by inhibiting the activity of a particular enzyme call hydrolase.

In this study, the team created mice that were genetically altered so that the enzyme resisted the effects of the nitro fatty acids. They tested the effects of giving the mutated mice and normal, wild mice that acted as the control group, an enzyme inhibitor. The team discovered that the inhibitor was capable of protecting the wild mice that had high blood pressure from heart damage. The inhibitor, however, did not provide any heart health benefits for the mutated mice.

"This study provides insights on the mechanics behind how eating vegetables aids in the reduction of risk of [high blood pressure]," said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University, St. Louis reported by Philly. Diekman was not a part of this study.

The researchers noted that even though the study was conducted in mice models, they believe that the findings could be applied to humans since humans have the same enzyme. However, more research should be conducted in order to better understand the effects of eating a Mediterranean diet on heart health. The team plans on studying this effect in human trials.

"This interesting study goes some way to explain why a Mediterranean diet appears to be good for your heart health. The results showed a way in which a particular compound could combat high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease," Dr. Sanjay Thakrar of the British Heart Foundation said according to BBC News. "However, more work is necessary as these experiments were conducted in mice and this compound could also be having its effect through other pathways."

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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