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Women who follow a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of heart disease and death, according to a new University of Sydney-led study.

The first known study to examine the link between diet and cardiovascular disease and mortality specifically in women, researchers found it led to a 24% lower risk of heart disease and a 23% lower risk of death. The results have prompted recommendations to follow the diet for prevention.

Published in Heart Journal, researchers examined data from 16 published studies, conducted between 2006 and 2021 and involving over 772,000 participants, where women followed the Mediterranean diet.

Researchers believe the results will play a major role in updating dietary and clinical guideline recommendations such as the Australian dietary guidelines for diets in women, particularly to help prevent heart disease. The latest AIHW report comparing Australian women’s diet to national dietary guidelines found less than one in 13 Australian women are meeting fruit and vegetable intake guidelines.

University of Sydney PhD candidate at the Westmead Applied Research Centre, Ms Anushriya Pant said a Mediterranean diet – high in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, with a moderate intake of seafood and lean protein, was known for its heart health benefits but its impact by sex in clinical trials has never been explored.

“The Mediterranean diet is known for its health benefits, especially for heart health, but most studies and research into diet and heart disease are done primarily in men,” said Ms Pant, who led the analysis.

“Now we have confirmed that similar benefits apply for women’s dietary guidelines, and this reflects the strength of the Mediterranean diet for good heart health.

“In medical research, there are sex disparities in how clinical trials are designed. This creates large gaps in clinical data, which can potentially impact the development of health advice.”

Heart disease is the primary cause of death globally.

Yet according to researchers, there are sex disparities in the treatment and diagnosis of heart diseases, and growing international calls for sex-specific cardiovascular research.

The Mediterranean diet has been of increasing interest because of its association with heart health.

“A healthy diet is a huge factor in preventing heart disease,” said senior author Associate Professor Sarah Zaman, from the University of Sydney Westmead Applied Research Centre and a Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow.

“However current guidelines on preventing heart disease lack sex-specific recommendations. Historically research trials and studies have had predominantly male participants, or lacked sex-specific analysis.

“Our results will pave the way to bridge this gap, and also highlights the need for more research to ensure health guidelines and policies include diverse perspectives.”

Read the full study here