A new analysis of randomized trials suggests that the Mediterranean diet and low-fat diets probably reduce the risk of death and nonfatal myocardial infarction (MI) in adults at increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), while the Mediterranean diet also likely reduces the risk of stroke.
Five other popular diets appeared to have little or no benefit with regard to these outcomes.
"These findings with data presentations are extremely important for patients who are skeptical about the desirability of diet change," write the authors, led by Giorgio Karam, with University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.
The results were published online March 29 in The BMJ.
Dietary guidelines recommend various diets along with physical activity or other cointerventions for adults at increased CVD risk, but they are often based on low-certainty evidence from nonrandomized studies and on surrogate outcomes.
Several meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials with mortality and major CV outcomes have reported benefits of some dietary programs, but those studies did not use network meta-analysis to give absolute estimates and certainty of estimates for adults at intermediate and high risk, the authors note.
For this study, Karam and colleagues conducted a comprehensive systematic review and network meta-analysis in which they compared the effects of seven popular structured diets on mortality and CVD events for adults with CVD or CVD risk factors.
The seven diet plans were the Mediterranean, low fat, very low fat, modified fat, combined low fat and low sodium, Ornish, and Pritikin diets. Data for the analysis came from 40 randomized controlled trials that involved 35,548 participants who were followed for an average of 3 years.
There was evidence of "moderate" certainty that the Mediterranean diet was superior to minimal intervention for all-cause mortality (odds ratio [OR], 0.72), CV mortality (OR, 0.55), stroke (OR, 0.65), and nonfatal MI (OR, 0.48).
On an absolute basis (per 1000 over 5 years), the Mediterranean diet led to 17 fewer deaths from any cause, 13 fewer CV deaths, seven fewer strokes, and 17 fewer nonfatal MIs.
There was evidence of moderate certainty that a low-fat diet was superior to minimal intervention for prevention of all-cause mortality (OR, 0.84; nine fewer deaths per 1000) and nonfatal MI (OR, 0.77; seven fewer deaths per 1000). The low-fat diet had little to no benefit with regard to stroke reduction.
The Mediterranean diet was not "convincingly" superior to a low-fat diet for mortality or nonfatal MI, the authors note.
The absolute effects for the Mediterranean and low-fat diets were more pronounced in adults at high CVD risk. With the Mediterranean diet, there were 36 fewer all-cause deaths and 39 fewer CV deaths per 1000 over 5 years.
The five other dietary programs generally had "little or no benefit" compared with minimal intervention. The evidence was of low to moderate certainty.
The studies did not provide enough data to gauge the impact of the diets on angina, heart failure, peripheral vascular events, and atrial fibrillation.
The researchers say that strengths of their analysis include a comprehensive review and thorough literature search and a rigorous assessment of study bias. In addition, the researchers adhered to recognized GRADE methods for assessing the certainty of estimates.
Limitations of their work include not being able to measure adherence to dietary programs and the possibility that some of the benefits may have been due to other factors, such as drug treatment and support for quitting smoking.
The study had no specific funding. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
BMJ. Published online March 29, 2023. Full text
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