A Mediterranean diet could be more effective at treating heart disease than statins, according to a new study.
The diet, which involves eating lots of vegetables, fish, nuts and oils, has previously been shown to benefit blood sugar control in people with diabetes.
Moreover, people with diabetes face a higher risk of heart disease than people without diabetes, so these findings have implications for people with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
This new study, which tracked 1,200 Italians with heart disease over seven years, examined how a Mediterranean diet affected the survival of these patients.
Those who closely followed a Mediterranean diet had a 37 per cent lower risk of death, with high consumption of vegetables having the greatest impact on survival.
Scientists at IRCCS Neuromed Institute, Italy noted that previous research found taking statins, which are cholesterol-lowering drugs, only reduced mortality in heart disease patients by 18 per cent.
Lead author Professor Giovanni de Gaetano believes that these new findings are so “extraordinary” that the NHS should subsidise vegetables to people with heart disease.
“The National Health Service pays for drugs, but it doesn’t pay for vegetables. The state should consider contributing towards those foods that make up the Mediterranean diet,” he said.
Doctors should consider “diet before drugs”, according to de Gaetano, who added that patients who still need statins could theoretically take lower doses of the drugs while eating a Mediterranean diet, subsequently lower the risk of side effects of statins, such as muscle pain.
Prof Jeremy Pearso, Associate Medical Director of the British Heart Foundatio, said: “It is good to know that even if you already have a history of cardiovascular disease, adhering to a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of death.
“This study suggests that even if you are already receiving medical care, if you add a Mediterranean diet, it will have further benefit. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, even if you have had a heart attack or stroke is really important and continues to benefit you.”
The researchers noted that these findings were observational, rather than causal, and next plan to investigate why exactly the Mediterranean diet seems to reduce the risk of premature death.

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