Cretan Diet and Health
From the Cretan and Mediterranean diet to recent discoveries regarding chronic disease and health indicators.
Based on the Cretan diet, the scientific community in the fields of health and nutrition in the 1960s defined the Mediterranean diet pattern, which has been the object of intensive scientific research during the past years. Results from the studies suggest that individuals who adopt this nutritional pattern present reduced risk against several chronic diseases, while various health indicators are also improved in these individuals. This is particularly important as, according to the World Health Organization, 60% of total deaths worldwide are due to chronic diseases and the adoption of attitudes related to a healthy lifestyle, such as nutrition, can significantly decrease occurrence of these diseases (www.who.int). It is important to note that a healthy lifestyle is related to a 83% decrease in the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases, 91% decrease in the occurrence of diabetes in women and 71% decrease in the occurrence of large intestine cancer in men. Consequently, according to these data, returning to a traditional nutritional pattern should be considered as a necessity for all of us.
Mentioned below are only a few of the many results of studies conducted during the past years regarding the role of what is now referred as the Mediterranean diet in our health. The results displayed derive only from studies which evaluated the Mediterranean diet as a whole, and not based on its individual components.
All the information included applies also to the Cretan diet of 1960s, since the Mediterranean diet was based on it. On the contrary, one could not claim as easily that the diet of other Mediterranean countries during the same period is connected to similar health benefits.
Old age is the result of biological changes occurring by the accumulation of non reversible damages to the cells of our organism and nutrition is one of the most important factors which affect the course of this process (Canella et al. 2009). The study of Seven Countries, followed by several other ones, was the first to demonstrate that the Cretan, and consequently Mediterranean, diet, contributes to longevity and deceleration of ageing. Individuals who adopt the Mediterranean diet present a longer lifetime, reduced mortality by any cause and particularly reduced mortality due to both coronary disease and cancer (Trichopoulou et al. 2003;Knoops et al. 2004;Trichopoulou et al. 2005;Bamia et al. 2007;Mitrou et al. 2007;Sofi et al. 2008).
Cardiovascular diseases are at present the primary cause of death worldwide, and among them coronary disease, with myocardial infarction being its basic clinical onset, which holds the first position (www.who.int). The study of Seven Countries was the first to show the connection between Cretan diet and coronary disease, while these findings were also confirmed by several later studies (Martinez-Gonzalez et al. 2002;Panagiotakos et al. 2008;Fung et al. 2009). Apart from coronary disease and myocardial infarction, the Mediterranean diet has been also proved to have a protective effect against the occurrence of cerebral ischemic attack (Fung et al. 2009). Moreover, the adoption of Mediterranean diet has been connected with lower arterial pressure levels (Psaltopoulou et al. 2004) as well as with reduced occurrence of hypertension in some studies (Panagiotakos et al. 2003).
The adoption of this also appears to be related to lower levels in several indicators which increase the danger of cardiovascular disease, such as homocysteine and inflammation indicator levels (Panagiotakos et al. 2004;Panagiotakos et al. 2005;Salas-Salvado et al. 2007).
According to the World Health Organization 1/3 of adults worldwide can be characterized as hyperbaric and 1/10 as obese (www.who.int). By those rates, obesity appears to be one of the crucial problems of public health, since it is the 6th more important factor in the occurrence of diseases worldwide. Although the connection between the Mediterranean diet and obesity is still under investigation and the conclusions are yet unclear, certain studies demonstrate that individuals who follow the Mediterranean diet weigh less (Schroder et al. 2004;Shubair et al. 2005;Panagiotakos et al. 2006) and present a lower fat storage in the abdominal area (Panagiotakos et al. 2006). The above mentioned is particularly important since the accumulation of intestinal fat is a crucial factor in the danger of occurrence of metabolic disorders which can lead to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, the adoption of this diet has appeared to be related to a decrease in the rate of weight gain and in the occurrence of obesity over the years. (Sanchez-Villegas et al. 2006;Mendez et al. 2006).
Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
The increased rates of obesity observed during the past years have lead to respectively increased rates of metabolic syndrome and diabetes (Gregg et al. 2005). Metabolic syndrome is now a very common disorder which increases the possibility of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and is characterized by central obesity, increased glucose levels, increased triglycerides levels, increased arterial pressure levels and low HDL cholesterol levels (Alberti et al. 2006). The adoption of the Mediterranean diet has been connected with reduced occurrence of metabolic syndrome (Panagiotakos et al. 2004;Rumavas et al. 2009;Babio et al. 2009), and diabetes (Martinez-Gonzalez et al. 2008). Furthermore, in diabetic patients, the adoption of the Mediterranean diet has been connected with a better control of the disease (Esposito et al. 2009), while in patients who have just been diagnosed with diabetes it appears to delay the beginning of the pharmaceutical treatment. (Esposito et al. 2009).
The adoption of the Mediterranean diet appears to be connected with decreased occurrence of cancer in general (Benetou et al. 2008), as well as with decreased occurrence of specific forms of cancer. It is thus connected with decreased occurrence of cancer in the upper respiratory tract and more specifically in oral cavity, pharynx, (Fransceschi et al. 1999), oesophagus (Bosetti et al. 2000) and larynx (Bosetti et al. 2002). Moreover, it seems to be connected to reduced occurrence of breast cancer (Murtaugh et al. 2008;Cottet et al. 2009) and colorectal cancer (Reedy et al. 2008).
It has been estimated that over 25% of colorectal cancer cases, over 15% of breast cancer cases and over 10% of cases of cancer of the prostate, pancreas and endometrium could be prevented by the adoption of the traditional Mediterranean diet (Trichopoulou et al. 2000).
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson diseases
Recent studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet is also connected to the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson diseases, whose frequency has been increased during the past years. The adoption of the Mediterranean diet has been proved to reduce occurrence of both these disorders, as well as mortality by Alzheimer’s disease (Scarmeas et al. 2006; Scarmeas et al. 2007; Sofi et al. 2008).