The study involved researchers from the New York University School of Medicine.
Chris Lim, a doctoral student at the university, noted that earlier studies have determined that dietary changes, such as the addition of antioxidants, can help blunt the negative effects of short-term exposure to high levels of air pollution. For the study, the researchers set out to confirm the long-term effects of the diet. (Related: The Mediterranean Diet Reduces Mortality From All Causes.)
The Mediterranean diet includes foods that are rich in molecules called antioxidants. These molecules can disarm free radicals, which are oxidized and highly reactive molecules that have been confirmed to cause cell and tissue damage.
The Mediterranean diet favors whole and single-ingredients and foods such as:
Researchers examined data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) - American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Diet and Health Study. The study covered a 17-year period which followed 548,699 individuals. The participants, who had an average age of 62 at enrollment, came from these six states: California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Participants also came from two cities, Atlanta and Detroit.
During the 17-year study period, 126,835 participants from the study group died.
The researchers categorized the volunteers into five groups depending on their level of adherence to the Mediterranean diet. They also linked participants to estimates of long-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrous oxide (NO2), and ozone (O3) based on census tract information.
The researchers compared the participants who were least and most adherent to a Mediterranean diet. The results showed that:
The scientists also noted that following a Mediterranean diet didn't seem to prevent the negative effects of long-term O3 exposure. They added that the diet didn't reduce deaths from all causes, heart attack, or other heart problems linked to O3 exposure.
George Thurston, the senior study author, said that based on the confirmed benefits of a diet full of antioxidants, the results are consistent with the hypothesis that particle air pollution due to fossil fuel combustion negatively affects health by causing oxidative stress and inflammation.
Thurston, who is also the director of the Program in Exposure Assessment and Human Health Effects at the Department of Environmental Medicine at NYU School of Medicine, added that since one-fourth of the study population lived in areas that had air pollution levels of 10 mcg/m3 or more above the lowest exposure, following the Mediterranean diet can help minimize the negative effects of air pollution in "a substantial population in the United States."
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