Stay healthy. Don't get sick. That's the resounding message we get from our healthcare providers even as insurance costs continue to skyrocket. Preventative care is certainly the smart thing to do, but what happens when you're already sick?
The good news is that recent studies have shown that it's never too late to improve our health, even if we're sick.
In the past few days alone, researchers have shown how green tea's anti-inflammatory properties can help patients with abdominal aortic aneurisms. The researchers found that the potentially deadly condition developed less frequently in rats that were given polyphenol, a major component of green tea.
Another study has shown the effects that walking on an aquatic treadmill can have on a person who has suffered a stroke. Water provides resistance so patients can strengthen their muscles without placing stress on their joints and, even better, without having to worry about falling down.
In fact, we've seen that even a brisk 15-minute walk every day can literally save your life, regardless of how old you are or how long you've lived a sedentary lifestyle.
These are all very compelling, scientifically backed reasons to take whatever steps you need to improve your health. Now, there's another one, and it's delicious.
If you want to avoid cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and maybe even lose a few pounds and maintain a healthy weight, then consider eating the Mediterranean diet.
Many healthcare providers strongly recommend it because it's rich in omega-3s, heart-healthy fats and antioxidants that help protect us from chronic conditions and even cancer.
It should really be called the "keep-at-bayer" diet. But is it any help to people who have a history of CVD?
You bet it is.
According to an observational study presented at ESC Congress 2016 early this week, the Mediterranean diet has been linked with a reduced risk of death in patients with CVD, including those with coronary artery disease and those who have suffered strokes.
"The Mediterranean diet is widely recognized as one of the healthier nutrition habits in the world," said Professor Giovanni de Gaetano, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the I.R.C.C.S. Neuromed Institute in Pozzilli, Italy. "In fact, many scientific studies have shown that a traditional Mediterranean lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of various chronic diseases and, more importantly, of death from any cause."
All that research, however, has focused primarily on healthy people. Professor de Gaetano wanted to see whether the diet would be optimal for people who have already suffered from cardiovascular disease.
The patients the team examined were among the participants enrolled into the Moli-sani project, a prospective epidemiological study that randomly recruited around 25,000 adults living in the Italian region of Molise.
"Among the participants, we identified 1,197 people who reported a history of cardiovascular disease at the time of enrollment," said Dr. Marialaura Bonaccio, lead author of the research.
Food intake was recorded using the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) food frequency questionnaire.
Adherence to the Mediterranean diet was appraised with a 9-point Mediterranean diet score (MDS).
All-cause death was assessed by linkage with data from the office of vital statistics in Molise.
During a median follow-up of 7.3 years there were 208 deaths. A 2-point increase in the MDS was associated with a 21% reduced risk of death after controlling for age, sex, energy intake, egg and potato intake, education, leisure-time physical activity, waist to hip ratio, smoking, hypertension, hypercholesterolaemia, diabetes and cancer at baseline.
When considered as a 3-level categorical variable, the top category (score 6-9) of adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with 37% lower risk of death compared to the bottom category (0-3).
"We found that among those with a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet, death from any cause was reduced by 37% in comparison to those who poorly adhered to this dietary regime," Professor de Gaetano said.
The researchers deepened their investigation by looking at the role played by individual foods that make up the Mediterranean diet.
"The major contributors to mortality risk reduction were a higher consumption of vegetables, fish, fruits, nuts and monounsaturated fatty acids — that means olive oil," said Dr. Bonaccio.
The results are encouraging and have prompted the team to investigate the mechanisms by which the Mediterranean diet may protect against death.
"This was an observational study," says a cautious Professor de Gaetano, "so we cannot say that the effect is causal. We expect that dietary effects on mediators common to chronic diseases such as inflammation might result in the reduction of mortality from any cause but further research is needed."
The plethora of health-and-wellness advice aimed at keeping people from getting sick in the first place can be very frustrating for people who are not well. Indeed, what do you do when it's seemingly too late? This latest study offers hope and demonstrates that preventative care is not the exclusive domain of healthy people, that it need not be a case of too little, too late and that absolutely everyone can take steps to improve their overall health.