LDL cholesterol: Mediterranean diet may not affect levels

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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Is following a Mediterranean diet enough to lower cholesterol levels? Image credit: Sara Remington/Stocksy.
  • High cholesterol is responsible for about 2.6 million deaths globally every year.
  • Previous studies have suggested that certain diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, can help lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels.
  • Researchers from Lausanne University have found contrary evidence suggesting following the Mediterranean diet may not have as much impact on cholesterol levels as previously reported.

Researchers estimate that high cholesterol causes about 2.6 million deaths around the world each year.

High cholesterol is caused by an increased level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol, in the body.

Although genetics and some medications can cause heightened LDL cholesterol levels, most times the main culprit is an unhealthy diet.

Over the past few years, scientists have found that certain diets, such as the DASH diet, Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet, vegan diet, and Mediterranean diet, can help lower “bad” cholesterol levels.

Now, however, researchers from Lausanne University in Switzerland have found contrary evidence, suggesting that following the Mediterranean diet may not have as much impact on cholesterol levels as previously reported.

The study was recently published in the journal Nutrients.

For this study, researchers conducted three cross-sectional studies using data from people living in Lausanne, Switzerland. The dietary intake of about 4,200 study participants was assessed through a food frequency questionnaire.

Scientists measured how adherent study participants were to the Mediterranean diet, as well as their LDL and HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the bloodstream. High triglyceride levels coupled with low HDL and/or high LDL cholesterol levels can increase a person’s risk of heart issues.

Upon analysis, the researchers found that no matter how high a participant’s adherence to the Mediterranean diet was, it did not affect their lipid profile, which is a measurement of a person’s cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Scientists reported there were no significant differences between how adherent a person was to the Mediterranean diet and study participants diagnosed with incident dyslipidemia, which is an imbalance of lipids in the blood.

Researchers said that adherence to the Mediterranean diet was positively related to HDL cholesterol and negatively linked to triglyceride levels in participants who were not diagnosed with dyslipidemia. However, there were no significant associations reported for total and LDL cholesterol.

Overall, the researchers commented in their study that their results highlight the need for more research on long-term dietary investigations across populations, and also question the one-diet-fits-all approach for a specific medical treatment, such as lipid imbalance.

After reviewing this research, Monique Richard, a registered dietitian nutritionist, owner of Nutrition-In-Sight, and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition Dietetics, not involved in the study, told Medical News Today the results were not surprising.

“As registered dietitian nutritionists, my colleagues and I understand the bio-individuality and numerous other factors that influence lab values and biomarkers that measure cholesterol levels, such as genetics, ethnicity, activity, nutrient adequacy, prescription medication/medication interactions, metabolic cofactor functioning, bowel movements, gut health, gallbladder and bile duct functionality and more,” Richard told us.

“One specific pill, diet, or exercise is not, and never will be, a ‘cure-all’ or ‘one size fits all’,” she cautioned.

“I do think it is important to note that even though a conflict of interest was not disclosed, it is noted that a funding source of the study included GlaxoSmithKline — a pharmaceutical company that makes cholesterol-lowering medication,” Richard pointed out.

Dr. Yu-Ming Ni, a board-certified cardiologist and lipidologist at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, also not involved in the study, agreed with Richard’s viewpoiny:

“From a short-term standpoint, there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet. From a long-term standpoint, we’ve been looking to find which diet is the best. I still think that if you stick to the Mediterranean diet, which has the most data, you’re not going to be wrong.”

Dr. Ni, however, also told MNT he feared people would read this study and assume the Mediterranean diet provides no benefits.

“You’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater when you say something like that — that’s what I don’t want people to think,” he continued. “I think there’s some subtle differences in cholesterol. I just don’t think that it’s going to be just because one study says that maybe there isn’t a difference depending on adherence, I wouldn’t say that you shouldn’t do Mediterranean diet anymore.”

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