Mediterranean Diet Improves Heart Function

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A study conducted on twins at risk for heart disease shows that eating a Mediterranean diet can improve heart function. Researchers used heart monitors to find that a Mediterranean diet helps maintain heart rate variability that in turn reduces the chances of heart disease and sudden cardiac death.

Data from the Emory Twins Heart Study showed that men who ate a Mediterranean diet had greater heart rate variability (HRV), compared to men consuming a typical Western diet. Researchers say that mean the autonomic nervous system that controls heart rate is working better.


Fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, olive oil, cereals and alcohol in moderation compose a Mediterranean diet that is also low in saturated fat and linked to lower heart disease risk. Until now researchers weren’t certain why the diet was so heart healthy. The new findings show a Mediterranean diet could lower the chances of dying from a heart rhythm disturbance because it improves heart function, keeping electrical signals orderly.

Men whose Mediterranean diet scores were highest showed the most heart rate variability in the study, equating to a 9 to 14 percent reduction in the chances of cardiac death. Because the study was conducted on twins at risk for heart disease, the findings also showed the diet could reduce the chances of heart disease for individuals with hereditary factors that put them at risk.

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a predictor of mortality from heart disease and sudden cardiac death for patients who have experienced heart attack. Decreased heart rate variability is known to increase the chances of dying from heart disease. Medications used to control heart reduce the chances of sudden death from lethal arrhythmia for patients with known heart disease or at high risk for heart attack. Now researchers have discovered that eating a Mediterranean diet improves heart function by increasing heart rate variability. The study also showed that switching to a Mediterranean diet can protect individuals with a genetic predisposition to heart disease.