IMIM - Institut Hospital del Mar d'Investigacions Mèdiques

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4th February 2009 - Press release

The Mediterranean diet is associated with an improvement in mental health

This study was recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition

For the first time, a study has evaluated the contribution of the Mediterranean diet on the perception that people have of their own physical and mental health. The report concludes that the positive effects of the Mediterranean diet are not provided only by the composition of the food ingested, but also by the lifestyle associated with this diet: eating at home more, spending time preparing the food, sharing meals, etc.; elements that contribute to improving the perception of an individual’s well-being.

To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers in the Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition research group at the Municipal Institute of Medical Research (IMIM-Hospital del Mar) analysed data from a representative population in Girona from 2000 to 2005. A total of 8,195 individuals between the ages of 35 and 74 (3,910 women and 4,285 men) were selected and were interviewed to find out, principally, any relevant clinical antecedents, their dietary habits, consumption of alcohol and tobacco, habitual physical activity, cultural level, etc. In this same cohort, any chronic diseases and medications being taken were noted, among others, for those participating, and their body mass index (BMI) was calculated.

In the course of the study, the participants answered several validated questionnaires conducted by trained personnel in the clinic, both to obtain information on the quality of life referenced (questionnaire SF-12) and to evaluate the type of food they had consumed in the previous 12 months (questionnaire FFQ). For the latter questionnaire, the foods that are considered part of any Mediterranean diet were selected. Although perceived quality of life as regards health is a measurement of perception more than a biological measurement, one’s perceived health condition has been shown to be a very strong predictor of mortality in the long term.

Once all the factors taken into account in the study were analysed, the results clearly showed that for both men and women, the Mediterranean diet is significantly associated with an improved perception of the individual’s physical and mental health. Additionally, the effects of the Mediterranean diet observed were not impacted by physical activity, BMI or the use of tobacco.

In general, the Mediterranean diet is high in legumes and vegetables, contains relatively little meat and is frequently accompanied by a small amount of alcohol. Several previous studies have associated it with a prevention of cardiovascular disorders and an improvement in life expectancy. Quality of life, apart from socio-cultural factors, is closely related to the individual’s perceived mental and physical health. Thus, multiple factors may be related to the perception that people have of their own health, and a study was needed that was able to do a global evaluation to ascertain it.

Given the interest shown in health policies in recent years to make the public aware of more healthy lifestyles, the present study provides new and clear evidence of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the population and provides support for health officials to persevere in the public health strategy already begun.

Reference article: “Adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with better mental and physical health” British Journal of Nutrition (2008), page 1 of 7. DOI:10.1017/S0007114508143598

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