Recent research indicates that following a Mediterranean pattern of eating can significantly lower blood pressure. Some of the key foods eaten in the Mediterranean diet including olives, nuts and avocados, are rich in unsaturated fats. Others such as celery, carrots and leafy greens – for example lettuce and spinach – are packed with chemicals known as nitrates and nitrites.
It’s believed that it is this combination of nutrients that have the ability to cut blood pressure. Professor Philip Eaton of King’s College London said the findings help to explain why a Mediterranean diet supplement containing extra-olive oil or nuts could reduce the incidence of cardiovascular problems.
Mediterranean diet all about a chemical reaction
It has long been believed that a diet high in olive oil, vegetables, fruit and nuts help to protect against strokes and heart attacks. These new findings, recently published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal the mechanism behind this. In clinical experiments using mice researchers discovered that the unsaturated fatty acids in olive oil and the nitrogen in vegetables create ‘nitro’ fatty acids, which blocked the enzyme sEH (soluble epoxide hydrolase) – the enzyme responsible for raising blood pressure.
Researchers used genetically modified mice to test theory
The compounds ‘adduct’ or attach themselves to a point on the enzyme molecule which is close to its ‘catalytic center’. This prevents a series of reactions from occurring which in turn results in dilation of the blood vessels to lower blood pressure. During the study, researchers engineered mice so that their version of the enzyme could not bind with the nitro fatty acids. They then compared them with mice that had normal enzymes. After giving the mice a hormone to induce high blood pressure the two groups of mice were then given nitro fatty acid in a direct form or via a Mediterranean diet. They discovered that blood pressure in the normal mice went down, but that BP in the genetically modified mice did not. They also saw a reduction in heart size in the normal mice which wasn’t seen in the genetically modified mice.
The study was funded by a number of organizations including the British Heart Foundation and the Medical Research Council UK.
Long term research identifies link between diet and blood pressure
Inspired by the cuisines of countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece the Mediterranean diet has long been touted as a one of the healthiest forms of diet. Studies dating back to 1957 have looked at links between food and heart disease and found that a Mediterranean diet was better than a low fat diet for reducing cardiovascular risk.
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