Revisiting the “Seven Countries Study” and the benefits of the Mediterranean diet
© Dr. Michael D. Jacobson, D.O. Do not reproduce this article without permission.
At a recent Continuing Medical Education (CME) event, I was inspired by a family physician’s presentation about the powerful benefits of the Mediterranean diet. If I’m honest, a lack of self-discipline and minimal shared interest from others caused me to stray away from what I learned years ago, but Dr. Louis Kuritzky’s presentation stirred in me a desire to return to this dietary lifestyle change.
Many of the diet’s concepts are captured in my first book, The Word on Health, in “The Biblical Diet Pyramid” illustration. The information was based on an intensive study of Scripture and a comprehensive review of the time’s scientific nutritional literature.
One example includes the landmark 1970 “Seven Countries Study” where scientists studied coronary heart diseases in seven countries: Finland, Yugoslavia, Japan, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands and the United States. The project was the first of its kind to document the association between coronary heart disease and high cholesterol, high blood pressure and dietary and lifestyle factors. I was most impressed that the island of Crete’s death rate due to coronary heart disease was only two percent of that of the United States.
A study was also performed in Lyon, France to see if the diet could have a similar impact in a western country. Scientists randomly assigned men and women who had suffered a heart attack into one of two groups. The control group received standard medical and dietary advice while the experimental group consented to following a southern Mediterranean diet.
The results were so dramatic that the study was discontinued early (after just five years): Those who followed the southern Mediterranean diet reduced their chances of having another significant cardiovascular event such as stroke, heart attack or death by 70 percent.
Furthermore, Dr. Kuritzky shared that today’s standard medical advice for someone who’s suffered a heart attack is to quit smoking and take medication (ie. beta blockers, statins or both). Yet, the Mediterranean diet is more effective at preventing future events. For example, the diet can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by a whopping 56 percent, whereas discontinuing smoking appears to reduce the risk by 46 percent (still very significant). Taking a beta blocker cuts risk by 39 percent, and a statin reduces risk by only 25 percent.
He also pointed out that “up to 80 percent of heart disease, stroke and Type II diabetes (and more than one third of the most common cancers) could be prevented by eliminating obesity, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity.”
Earlier I acknowledged obstacles I experienced when implementing a Mediterranean diet, but Dr. Kuritzky provided a helpful resource I’d like to share with you from Intermountain Healthcare.
The Live Well Mediterranean Diet brochure (see intermountainhealthcare.org/ext/Dcmnt?ncid=527023066) simplifies the diet by beginning with the general parameters including:
- Minimizing red meat and sweets consumption to only a couple of times per month
- Moderating fish, poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt throughout the week
- Consuming daily (without limitation) fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
The brochure also includes a checklist to assist in menu planning and grocery shopping.
I hope you find this information as helpful as I did. May God bless you as you exercise good stewardship over your health.
Dr. Jacobson’s note: This was one of two excellent lectures that addressed with convincing support the links between diet, disease and longevity.
- De Lorgeril, M et al. Circulation 1999; 99:779-785
- Estruch, R et al NEJM 2013; 368(14); 1279-90
- Kuritzky, Louis. “Things I Wish I Knew Last Year.” Lecture, Medical-Dental-Legal Update, South Lake Tahoe, January 28, 2019.
- Roger, VL et al. Published online in Circulation. Dec 15, 2010.