The researchers call for more sex-specific research around heart disease, including specific risk factors linked to menopause, pregnancy-related concerns such as pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes, and autoimmune diseases that are more prominent among women, such as systemic lupus.
Future studies should also explore the reasons why the Mediterranean diet is linked with lower heart disease and death, they said. The diet may reduce inflammation, boost antioxidants, and benefit the gut microbiome. It’s also rich in beneficial nutrients such as polyphenols (organic compounds found in some vegetables and fruit), nitrates, and omega-3 fatty acids, and it’s high in fiber and low in glycemic load.
“What we eat today has important health implications for our cardiometabolic health for years to come,” said Samia Mora, MD, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Lipid Metabolomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Mora, who wasn’t involved with this study, has researched the links between the Mediterranean diet and heart health. She and colleagues have found that women who follow the diet are more likely to have lower inflammation, insulin resistance, body mass index, and blood pressure.
“Women are often the primary meal preparers, and their dietary habits influence other family members — in particular children,” she said. “It was striking to see the results, with about one-quarter reduction in fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events. This is very similar to the benefit that we see with statin therapy, a commonly used medication to lower cholesterol.”