Is the Mediterranean Diet Better Than Statins for Treating Heart Disease?

A new study suggests that a Mediterranean diet may cut risk of heart failure more than statins, but the results must be put in context — here’s why.

Statins are drugs that provide a key treatment for lowering cholesterol and, as a result, safeguard people with either a personal or family history of conditions like heart attacks, strokes and blocked arteries.

Previous research has shown that statins are effective and provide the best all-around preventative treatment. Statins have been prescribed in increasing numbers, but they may come with some serious drawbacks.

However, an observational study presented at the European Society of Cardiology conference this past weekend is earning a lot of press attention for its findings. The research seems to show that a Mediterranean diet may have the same — or greater — health value than statins.

What did the study show?

The research, which was conducted by a team of Italian scientists, aimed to examine the Mediterranean diet more closely because it has performed well in other studies. The diet — rich in healthy oils, fish and vegetables — has shown a marked ability to protect people from developing heart disease, as well as lowering the risk of other health problems — even cancer. That being said, no large-scale studies have assessed the diet’s effects on people already diagnosed with a heart condition.

Researchers tracked 1,200 heart patients over the course of several years. During the study’s time frame, 208 patients died. However, when the researchers analyzed lifestyle choices and considered other factors — like pre-existing diabetes, smoking, age and cholesterol levels — they made an interesting discovery.

Those who followed the Mediterranean diet closely were about 37 percent less likely to die during the study than participants who maintained different diets, such those that contained lots of red meat and relatively few vegetables.

Better than statins? 

Statins tend to deliver a safeguarding effect that is around 18 percent, though the figure is contested. That’s still a sizable protective power but not nearly as marked as what the Mediterranean diet seemed to provide in this study.

Does that mean heart health patients should shun statins in favor of plentiful plates of Mediterranean delights?

Put simply, no.

Despite how many newspapers — even the Guardian – have framed this study, the researchers are quite clear: these figures are not directly comparable.

For one thing, this study was strictly observational, so researchers couldn’t control for the many ways in which self-reporting can skew results. Furthermore, this research didn’t directly compare statins to the Mediterranean diet. Thus, we can’t tell how the two perform under the same strict controls. That can be explored in future research.

Even so, this research adds to a growing body of evidence that supports a mainly plant-based diet — and specifically, a Mediterranean-style diet — as a lifestyle choice for optimal health. As a result, clinicians may consider diet as one of the primary ways to treat patients with heart disease, even in addition to statins.

While acknowledging that there is still much research to be done in this area, it is reasonable to suggest that this health intervention can be adopted immediately. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that, at the very least, a Mediterranean diet can support overall health.

Combining the diet’s apparent healthful benefits with other treatments — like statins — may, in the future, give patients an even better long-term prognosis. This study shows, once again, that what we put on our plate can have a direct effect on our health.

Could the Mediterranean diet replace statins for heart patients? That remains to be seen, but this research does at least suggest that patients can play a role in their heart health treatment by taking control of their diet.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Teresa Antela
Teresa Aabout a year ago

We, in Portugal, follow, the most of us, the med diet. Tyfs

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Yabout a year ago

Both are good for heart patients. Mediterranean diet has been around for millennia, perhaps as long as humans lived there, so definitely not a fad. A low-meat, high-veg. lifestyle which has proven to be healthy worldwide, not just in the Med.

For instance you could also call Southeast Asian food a kind of modified Med. diet, minus the olive oil - lots of veggies and little meat - chicken and seafood more than red meat.

Statins can be necessary tools for recovering heart patients. Doesn't mean they're for everybody.

Ricky T.
Ricky Tabout a year ago

Tomato sauce, pasta, olive oil...suits me! Med/Tuscany is renowned for diet & longevity.

Margie FOURIEabout a year ago

Thank you

Julie W.
Julie Wabout a year ago

John chapman, I wouldn't call the Mediterranean Diet a 'fad diet'. It's more a lifestyle, one which has been followed for decades in parts of Europe, rather than something new cooked up by a celebrity doctor. It also doesn't necessarily exclude meat, just not eaten in large amounts.

Shirley S.
Shirley Sabout a year ago

I was put on statins in 1988 as I was found to be a hyper person making too much cholesterol. After reading a post today I am going to look into crushed flax seed.

Anne Moran
Anne Moranabout a year ago

I guess it all depends on what form of heart disease you have,, and how bad it is... - Sometimes it can be reversed with exercise and healthy eating,, if it's due to a cholesterol problem or high blood pressure... - But then again,, statins have their place too...

Gerald L.
Gerald Labout a year ago

A diet high in magnesium will likely have more protection. Magnesium is even administered by IV for severe asthma attacks. It was the treatment of choice in ER before Nitro appeared on the market. Odd situation with explosive plant workers inhaling Nitro all week they start showing up at ER complaining of chest pains on their weekend off. Withdrawal symptoms. If you research Nitroglycerin use you may find data that states the longer you use it that it diminishes the cellularly ability to absorb oxygen.

william Miller
william Millerabout a year ago


Paul Lundbohm
Paul Lundbohmabout a year ago

Don't fear your food, fear dietary dogma!