Eureka! Why the Mediterranean Diet Works

Dear Reviewer,

You know what the Mediterranean diet is — fish, vegetables, fruits, olive oil, nuts, maybe some red wine. But what no one has known until recently is why epidemiological studies show that people who eat a Mediterranean diet are healthier and happier and live longer. There have been lots of guesses as to why this is true, but no definitive understanding of the mechanisms involved has emerged.

That just changed. And it’s really big news, because if what researchers have discovered in mice proves to be true in humans, it gives us a pathway to prevent strokes and heart disease, the top killers of people, without messing around in cells and the liver with controversial drugs like statins.

The ingredients for gazpacho soup contain many mainstays of the Mediterranean diet.

The ingredients for gazpacho soup contain many mainstays of the Mediterranean diet.

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have found that a molecule in olive oil, red wine, grape seed oil, and balsamic vinegar prevents bacteria in the gut from producing other molecules that are linked to atherosclerosis — hardening of the arteries caused by fatty plaque. The study was published Dec. 17 in the prestigious journal Cell.

The study shows, at least in mice, that a Mediterranean diet changes the way microbes in the gut behave. Lead author Dr. Stanley Hazen and his team identified a compound called DMB, or 3,3-dimethyl-1-butanol, in olive oil (most prevalent in cold-pressed extra virgin olive oils) and fed it to a genetic strain of mice predisposed to hardening of the arteries. The mice were also fed a heart-unhealthy diet.

The researchers found that DMB lowered levels of a metabolite in the gut called TMAO, or trimethylamine N-oxide. A lowered amount of TMAO in the mice dramatically reduced clogging of their arteries.

DMB prevents bacteria from changing choline, lecithin and carnitine, byproducts of eating animal fats, into TMAO. The process is parallel in some ways to how statins work, reducing the synthesis of cholesterol, except unlike statins, the liver is not affected and the process occurs outside of cells. Also, no microbes in the gut are destroyed, which could mean the body will not produce a resistance to DMB over time. So far, there appear to be no toxic side effects of introducing DMB into the gut.

If DMB proves to work on humans, it could open up a far safer way than statins to control plaque in arteries as we age. More than 600,000 people in the United States die each year from heart disease, much of it caused by hardening of the arteries.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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