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The Secret Behind the Mediterranean Diet’s Benefits

November 2017

By Michael Downey

Abundant research continues to reveal the longevity benefits of the Mediterranean diet. But we never knew the main factor behind the diet’s remarkable effects…until now.

Research has revealed that the polyphenols (a plant-based compound) found in the Mediterranean diet may be responsible for its ability to reduce mortality risk.1-3

This is the diet’s prime weapon driving its capacity to lower risks of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and inflammatory markers.2-4

In a just-published study, researchers found that those eating a Mediterranean diet experienced about a 60% reduction in cardiovascular risk.5

Most people fail to obtain sufficient polyphenols on a daily basis. A recent study recommended that people should ideally eat 10 servings of fruit and vegetables every day to reduce disease risk.6 For most people this is nearly impossible.

Using a water-based technology, researchers have found a way to naturally extract an array of polyphenols from Mediterranean food sources such as walnuts, artichokes, lentils, grapes, pomegranates, olives, and more.

Health and Longevity Effects

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish, wine, olive oil, and lean meat. Its overall longevity benefits have been well-documented in published studies.

Research has shown that following this diet is specifically associated with improvements in blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, lipid and lipoprotein profiles, inflammation, oxidative stress, and carotid atherosclerosis.7,8

In fact, not only has the Mediterranean diet been linked in epidemiological research to a remarkable 37% reduction in mortality among cardiovascular-disease patients9—but scientists have also demonstrated in a controlled clinical trial that this diet reduces mortality as a direct intervention.4 Even greater reductions in heart disease and stroke risk of about 60% were recently discovered by Italian scientists.5

The benefits of the Mediterranean Diet have been of great interest to scientists for years, and recent research is confirming that, with its impressive content of polyphenols, it can reduce mortality.

What You Need to Know
Polyphenols

Polyphenols: A Key Factor from the Mediterranean Diet

  • Recent research reveals that the polyphenol abundance in the Mediterranean diet may be primarily responsible for its potent cardioprotective, metabolic, and longevity effects.
  • Consistently replicating the Mediterranean diet is challenging.
  • A novel extraction process has allowed scientists to concentrate these specific polyphenols into capsule format, making it possible to be certain that you are getting a wide array of polyphenols every day.

Human Studies on Heart-Disease Reduction

Human Studies on Heart-Disease Reduction  

Last year at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, a study was presented that analyzed the survival rates for cardiovascular disease patients who followed the Mediterranean Diet. The study lasted over seven years and showed that people who ate the Mediterranean Diet died 37% less than those who ate a non-Mediterranean Diet.9

In many ways, following the Mediterranean Diet provides more protection against heart disease than many of today’s prescription drugs.10

In one study, investigators wanted to evaluate the impact of the diet on blood pressure in the elderly, a high-risk population for heart disease and stroke.

During this year-long study, patients were provided with a choice of two slightly different versions of the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat diet. One was the typical Mediterranean diet with added extra-virgin olive oil and the other, a typical Mediterranean diet with added nuts. It is important to note that both of these diets were rich in healthy fats as opposed to the low-fat diet eaten by the control group.3

After one year, both of the Mediterranean diets (with added olive oil or added nuts) led to reductions in diastolic and systolic blood pressure. Interestingly, what the scientists found in the Mediterranean diet group were increased levels of polyphenols being excreted in the urine and increased production levels of nitric oxide, the body’s natural blood-vessel relaxant and a biomarker of good cardiovascular function and healthy aging.11 The implication was that the rich supply of polyphenols in this diet stimulated the body’s natural defense mechanisms against high blood pressure.3

In a larger follow-up substudy published in 2017, researchers analyzed 1,139 participants at high risk for cardiovascular disease on the two Mediterranean diets (with added olive oil or nuts) or the control low-fat diet to determine if polyphenol levels were associated with inflammatory markers.2 Chronic inflammation is a recognized fundamental contributor to cardiovascular disease, and polyphenols are known anti-inflammatory agents.

After one year, participants who followed either of the two Mediterranean diets showed the greatest increase in urinary polyphenols vs those who ate the low-fat diet.

In a vivid illustration of the impact that increased polyphenols have on reducing inflammation, the Mediterranean diet groups not only had increased urinary polyphenols but also had significantly lower levels of five important markers of inflammation that correlate with cardiovascular risk. These include:2

  • Vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1),
  • Intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1),
  • Interleukin-6 (IL-6),
  • Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), and
  • Monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1).

The people who experienced the greatest rise in polyphenol levels were shown to have significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as increased levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol, compared to those with the lowest polyphenol elevations.2

Reduction in Brain Shrinkage

In a 2017 study published in the journal Neurology, researchers demonstrated that individuals who closely followed the Mediterranean diet experienced half as much age-related brain shrinkage as those who were less faithful to the diet.12

But aside from recognizing the role of the Mediterranean diet, the exact details of the underlying secret behind the diet’s benefits had never been established. Finally, scientists have found strong evidence that the credit goes to the specific polyphenols abundantly found in the key foods.

The takeaway from these studies? The diverse array of polyphenols in the specific foods of the Mediterranean diet constitute what is very likely one of the most important factors behind its protection against catastrophic heart disease, stroke, brain shrinkage, and cardiovascular-related mortality.1-3,7,8,12

Intense Bioactivity of Polyphenols

Intense Bioactivity of Polyphenols  

Consuming the foods in the Mediterranean diet—including fruits, olive oil, nuts, legumes, and vegetables—delivers a potent arsenal of polyphenols. Polyphenols play critical roles in neutralizing free radicals, anti-inflammation, and cell signaling, and they have been associated with a reduced risk of many of the same diseases as the Mediterranean diet itself.7

When the diverse polyphenols arrive in the colon, bacteria break them down into smaller molecules, notably phenols.7 These phenols (and other polyphenol-derived molecules) are then carried to the liver, where they are further transformed before being released into the circulation for transport to specific tissues that greatly benefit from their bioactive effects.7

For example, one of these phenols, resulting from the breakdown of polyphenols in the colon, travels to the liver. There it can act on various bone-marrow progenitor cells that circulate to tissues throughout the body, where they signal for new cell and tissue generation, particularly turning on bone-cell lines and turning off fat-cell lines.7

This body-wide bioactivity explains a compelling study conducted on 807 men and women aged 65 and over that was published in The Journal of Nutrition. Those in the highest third of total urinary polyphenols (which reflect circulating levels of polyphenols in the blood) had a 30% lower all-cause mortality over the 12-year follow up, compared with those in the lowest third.1

Harnessing the full power of the Mediterranean diet requires including sufficient amounts of the broad assortment of its key polyphenol-rich foods. Fortunately, an exciting new option is available.

Meeting the Polyphenol Targets of the Mediterranean Diet

Data shows that achieving the longevity benefits of the Mediterranean diet may require eating ten servings of fruits and vegetables a day.6 For most people this is a major challenge and may hinder their chances of receiving all the longevity benefits associated with this diet.

However, an innovative water-based process has been developed that safely extracts high quality polyphenols from a number of Mediterranean foods.

After pressurization, water can more powerfully break down plant-cell walls and solubilize bioactive compounds, which substantially enhances extraction. By lowering its polarity, this unique technology causes the water to create purified and potent phytonutrient extracts.

This process is then combined with a method that preserves the bioactive compounds by removing water through evaporation. The result is a highly concentrated extract, free of solvents and containing bioactives previously considered unrecoverable.

Using this process, scientists have concentrated a wide array of polyphenols extracted from seven of the most polyphenol-rich foods in the Mediterranean diet.

Let’s examine each of these extracts separately.

Polyphenol Extracts of Mediterranean Foods

Research documents that 87% of Americans fail to get the recommended intake of vegetables,13 76% fall short on fruit intake,13 and most do not consume sufficient legumes and nuts.14,15

The following extracts support the Mediterranean diet’s capacity to block insulin insensitivity, oxidative stress, inflammation, brain shrinkage, and especially reduce cardiovascular disease—and to lower all-cause mortality.1-4,7,9,12

Grape-Seed Extract

Grape-Seed Extract  

Loaded with polyphenols, grape-seed extracts reduce oxidized LDL cholesterol (an early atherosclerosis trigger) and prevent oxidized LDL from binding to its receptor on endothelial cells, a highly vascular-protective effect.16,17 They prevent the death of cardiac muscle cells18 and activate eNOS (the enzyme responsible for producing nitric oxide).19,20

Critically, grape-seed extracts also prevent low-grade inflammation—a key contributor to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular risk—by inhibiting the production of inflammatory signaling molecules (cytokines).21

Olive-Leaf Extract

Olive-Leaf Extract  

Olives are central to the Mediterranean diet. Polyphenol extracts of the leaf of the olive have been shown to powerfully protect cultured heart muscle cells from destruction caused by intense oxidative damage.22 They decrease oxidative-stress-induced tissue damage and boost intracellular resistance systems.23

In a rat model of metabolic syndrome, these extracts improved or normalized abdominal- and liver-fat accumulation, excessive collagen deposition in the heart and liver, cardiac stiffness, poor glucose tolerance, and abnormal lipid profiles.24

Pomegranate Extract

Pomegranate Extract  

The various anti-inflammatory effects of pomegranate peel extracts are particularly beneficial for people at risk for cardiovascular disease.25

For example, these extracts increase resistance to oxidative stress in animals with high cholesterol.26,27 They have been found to reduce the accumulation of oxidized LDL cholesterol in the foam cells found in the earliest stages of atherosclerosis, shrinking plaque size by up to 39%.28 And impressive studies show that pomegranate extracts reduce the overall cholesterol burden by promoting cholesterol flow out of these cells by 147%.26

Walnut Extract

Walnut Extract  

Extracts of polyphenol-rich29 walnuts inhibit highly inflammatory LDL oxidation in human plasma.30 In addition, walnuts have been shown to reduce aortic plaque development in mice by 55%, while lowering plasma triglycerides 36%, cholesterol 23%, and prothrombin (a blood-clot formation enhancer) 21%, compared to controls.31

Pecan Extract

Associated with reductions in cardiovascular disease risk—in part due to their important role in reducing LDL cholesterol32—pecans boost plasma antioxidant capacity in the critical after-meal period, helping to decrease the oxidation of LDL cholesterol that leads to atherosclerosis.33

Artichoke Extract

Artichoke Extract  

Extracts made from the leaf, stem, and root of artichokes—another staple of the Mediterranean diet—have demonstrated numerous cardioprotective effects, such as inhibiting cholesterol synthesis and LDL oxidation.34,35

Lentil Extract

Lentil Extract  

Prominent in the Mediterranean diet, lentils abound in fiber, B vitamins—and polyphenols. Lentil extracts have been shown to prevent high blood pressure induced by the hormone angiotensin-II (a vessel-constricting signaling molecule), which helps protect against arterial narrowing.36

When combined into a single supplement, these food extracts provide the broad spectrum of unique polyphenols that give the Mediterranean diet its unparalleled longevity effects.

Summary

Mediterranean diet  

The Mediterranean diet is well known for its cardioprotective, metabolic, and longevity effects. Recent studies have confirmed that these impressive benefits may stem primarily from the diet’s extremely rich polyphenol content.

For most people, consuming enough Mediterranean diet foods every day can be extremely difficult.

Fortunately, a novel extraction process has made it possible to concentrate these specific polyphenols into a capsule. This allows you to be certain that you’re getting enough of the Mediterranean diet’s polyphenol content on a daily basis.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

References

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