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Jan 22, 2014 09:11 AM EST

Mediterranean Diet Prevents Narrowing Of Arteries in Legs, Study

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Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of peripheral artery disease, according to a University of Navarra study. Previous studies showed that the diet rich in olive oil, nuts, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish reduces overall incidents of heart attack and stroke, dementia and diabetes.

"Now we have this very strong reduction in the risk of peripheral artery disease," Dr. Miguel Martínez-González, said. "This is very reassuring," Reuters reports.

In the United States, an estimated 8 million people are affected with peripheral artery disease, which mainly affects the legs. Arteries in the leg get clogged when plaque accumulates in them, thereby restricting blood flow. This causes leg pain and fatigue, especially during walking.

For the study, the researchers asked around 7,477 older Spaniards without heart disease to follow one of three diet plans: a Mediterranean-style diet with extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet with extra nuts or a low-fat diet.

After almost five years, the researchers found that 89 people in the study developed peripheral artery disease. Among them 18 belonged to the olive oil group, 26 in the nuts group and 45 in the low-fat group.

They also found that Mediterranean diet with olive oil lowered the risk of peripheral artery disease by 64 percent, whereas and the diet with extra nuts decreased the risk by 50 percent.

Researchers said that the peripheral artery disease condition is rare and affects about one in 300 people.

Martínez-González said that if a Mediterranean diet can lessen the risk of heart attack and stroke, it could also prove beneficial in other diseases related to clogged arteries by reducing inflammation and regulating cholesterol levels.

"From a biological, mechanistic point of view, the underlying disease process for peripheral artery disease is exactly the same as for stroke or (heart attack). It is atherosclerosis, or disease of the arteries," Martínez-González said.

Martínez-González suggests people to drink a glass of red wine every night, to eat vegetables cooked in olive oil, to replace red meat with poultry and fish and have fruits instead of sweets.

The finding has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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