No one wants to get sick. I’m not talking about a cold or passing flu bug. I mean a long-term, disabling chronic illness.
Chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes are the most common reasons why people age poorly and die prematurely. If we can try and prevent these diseases from ever occurring, perhaps we can live most of our years in good health without the burden of chronic illness.
In my opinion, this is where we all should be headed in terms of risk reduction and the improvement of health, well-being and quality of life as we age.
But how? This is done through primary prevention strategies—the most important factors for risk reduction because they are found in people without any evidence of the disease you are trying to prevent.
For example, the type of diet you consume can provide primary prevention against the early development of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. There are literally hundreds of research studies indicating this fact.
A recent example comes from a report from Spain which indicated people following a Mediterranean-style diet showed less build-up of plaque in their arteries compared to a similar group of people who consumed a diet low in saturated fat. I’m a huge fan of the Mediterranean diet myself; it consists of fish, lean meats, poultry, whole grains, legumes, fruit, vegetables, avocadoes, nuts, seeds and red wine (indeed!), supplemented with extra virgin olive oil.
The study looked at the thickness of a major artery in the neck called the carotid artery by measurements following MRI imaging in 60 of the 7,447 high-risk older adults previously enrolled in this study who had no history of heart disease. The original PREDIMED trial lasted almost five years and also indicated that those people who also consumed nuts had decreased plaque build-up. Study groups who ate the Mediterranean diets showed a reduced 30% risk reduction in heart attack, stroke and premature death compared to the control group who consumed a low-fat diet.
The report also indicated that in the 60 participants subjected to the MRI examination, 19 from the control group who ate a lower-fat diet, by comparison, experienced a significant increase in plaque accumulation in their carotid arteries.
This particular report proves that primary prevention with a specific diet helps to prevent the development of heart disease, stroke and premature death through various mechanisms, including the reduction in arterial plaque, less inflammation, oxidation of LDL cholesterol molecules, improvements in blood pressure and blood clotting, and the reduction in the adherence of particles inside the arteries of the heart and neck.
The right foods, as I’ve always thought, make a difference in your risk for disease.
Primary prevention begins with understanding your own risk profile and then determining which lifestyle changes you need to make. This crucial first step can reduce the likelihood you will experience a chronic disease.
It begins with your diet and then extends into other aspects of your life like exercise, leisure time and stress reduction.
Sala-Vita, A., “Effect of a Mediterranean diet intervention on 3T MRI-monitored carotid plaque progression and vulnerability: A substudy of the PREDIMED trial,” 82nd Annual European Atherosclerosis Society Congress, June 2, 2014, Madrid, Spain.