Effective Science-Based Content Marketing for Food, Life Science and Healthcare Companies

marketing

Image source: Depositphotos

Inbound marketing is increasingly replacing traditional, direct marketing in the food, life science and healthcare sectors. HubSpot has already identified inbound marketing as the most effective marketing method for online businesses since 2006.  Quality content, designed to attract and retain the attention of potential customers, is an integral component of each inbound marketing campaign. It can be delivered in the form of blogs, long-form articles, e-books, videos and website pages, just to name a few examples. Because content lies at the heart of inbound marketing, responsible and effective use of scientific information in content marketing campaigns has become increasingly important for all players on the market.

With the advent of Internet, scientific information has become accessible to virtually everyone with a simple click of a mouse. This means that customers are more equipped and motivated to research a product or healthcare service before making a purchase. A recent Pew Research Center report, Health Online 2013, found that 72% of internet users researched health information online within the past year. The 2016 MM&M /Ogilvy CommonHealth Healthcare Marketers Trend Report analyzed marketing strategies of pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and diagnostic companies and found that digital channels are increasingly replacing traditional marketing channels. In consumer marketing, the greatest growth was observed in the use of social media, mobile and tablet apps, and digital ads.

However, many businesses in the food, life science and healthcare space, especially small start-ups, are still not fully integrating science-based content marketing in their digital marketing strategy. In turn, they are missing out on important benefits that this approach can secure for their business, such as increased credibility, trust, and, ultimately, sales. Customers are compelled to buy from companies that they identify as credible sources of relevant information. However, they often have a hard time differentiating between sound science-backed marketing statements and simple marketing tricks designed to simply drive sales.

So, what should the customers look for in marketing content and how should the food, life science and healthcare companies ensure responsible and effective use of scientific information in content marketing?

This article will provide practical suggestions for marketing experts aiming to develop successful science-based, content marketing strategies for their brands. General advice provided below is relevant to marketing content delivered both in print and digital format, and targeting an audience with a limited scientific background. SEO optimization will not be discussed, as other valuable resources on this topic are already available.

Use plain language. Because they look for answers to complicated questions, research studies, especially clinical trials, are complex by design. Results obtained from such studies can, and often do, impact human health, which is a serious matter. However, navigating scientific information can be very difficult for customers without a scientific background.  The use of plain language is essential outside of a non-scientific setting and especially relevant in science-based marketing. Effective communicators need to be able to digest complex scientific information and present it in a clear and easy-to-understand manner using plain language. Whether the target audience are customers shopping for dietary supplements or patients researching their treatment options, the science behind a product or service needs to be explained clearly. Ultimately, consumers who cannot understand how a product can benefit them will be turned away and, likely, never return.

Use images for a more effective presentation. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This is especially true in science-based marketing. Scientific communicators need to convey complex information in a simple manner and this is where images and infographics can be tremendously helpful. They can help the reader follow your train of thought, while at the same time contributing to a document’s effective presentation. Including images in marketing content published on the Web, such as blogs and landing pages, is especially important. Research has shown that blogs with images receive 94% more views than those without images.

Cite credible sources. Citing reliable sources of information is essential in science-based marketing. This approach builds credibility for both the specific brand and the company in questions. Turn to PubMed/Medline, GoogleScholar, Web of Science, World Health Organization, as well as professional medical associations, for relevant peer-reviewed articles and other credible sources of scientific and medical information. In addition, in product promotion, emphasis should be placed on citing independent research studies, because they are not subject to the bias typically associated with studies funded by the manufacturer.

Get opinions from independent scientists. Most large companies have a Scientific Advisory (SA) Board in place that oversees the development of a company’s dietary supplement, functional food product,  or drug. The SA Board is also responsible for ensuring that a product’s development is in line with the latest scientific know-how and research findings. However, taking a second look at the science behind a new product by a reputable, independent scientist is always a good idea. Products and services with such objective endorsements build customer trust in the company.

Secure FDA approval for any health claims. Although this is not a direct responsibility of a content marketing strategist, it is still relevant to the topic. The Food and Drug Administration ensures that drugs and medical devices approved for use in patients have been thoroughly tested and that they’re safe and effective. Strict rules must be followed in marketing drugs and discussing them is beyond the scope of this article. However, in case of functional food products and dietary supplements, FDA differentiates between three types of claims: nutrient content claims, structure/function claims, and health claims. While nutrient content claims describe the level of a nutrient in a food product, structure/function claims focus on “effects derived from nutritive value” for food products, and “non-nutritive as well as nutritive effects” for dietary supplements.  Conventional food manufacturers are not required to notify FDA about their structure/function claims; in contrast, health claims are always subject to FDA’s review and approval. This regulatory process ensures that customers are protected from misleading marketing claims and products that, ultimately, do not have any beneficial health properties.

Following the above tips in science-based content marketing will ensure that a brand’s reputation is built on a strong scientific foundation and that the marketing message is communicated clearly and effectively. Such an approach to content marketing will, over the long-term, benefit both the business and its prospective customers.

Scientist Writer LLC specializes in science and medical writing services for the food, life science and healthcare companies. We’d be glad to help with your next science-based marketing campaign.

© Scientist Writer LLC 2016

The PhotosynQ Project: Bridging the Distance between Researchers through Technological Innovation

Plants

Image credits: www.photosynq.org

Can plant data collected in a small field in Malawi tell us anything about crop performance on farms across the US? You might be surprised by the answer to this question, even if you’re a scientist.

After attending the PhotosynQ Workshop held at Michigan State University last week, I felt compelled to write a blog highlighting a completely unique approach to scientific collaboration and data collection introduced by the PhotosynQ project, which, I am confident, will profoundly affect the traditional way we view scientific research and collaboration.

Plant researchers know that it is virtually impossible to exactly reproduce the environmental conditions that affect plant growth and development in the laboratory. The delicate balance inside plant tissues can be adversely affected by only few seconds of exposure to harsh weather conditions, alternating moisture levels or varying soil pH. Not to mention the devastating effects of insects and insect-borne diseases. Until recently, it was not possible to take the plant, together with its microenvironment, back to the lab for experimentation.

This is about to change, thanks to the vision of Professor David M. Kramer, Hannah Distinguished Professor in Photosynthesis and Bioenergetics at Michigan State University, and his team of scientists and engineers. Two years ago, the Kramer team embarked on a mission to make sophisticated science more accessible, convenient and affordable to researchers worldwide. The results of this passion are novel technologies, the PhotosynQ online platform and the Mutispeq hand-held device, that are transforming plant research by facilitating seamless exchange of scientific data and knowledge among researchers worldwide.

The PhotosynQ platform

The PhotosynQ platform for data collection and analysis

The PhotosynQ platform has been designed to measure and analyze various parameters relevant to plant health and development. The data is collected directly in the field with a Multispeq device connected to a computer or smartphone. The device itself has all performance capabilities of a high-end spectrophotometer. Both the PhotosynQ platform and the Multispeq device are open-source technologies, intended to be customized and tailored to the needs of the research community. Version 1.0 of the device is currently in production and scheduled for shipping in early July of 2016 to interested research groups across the world.

But how can this new technology so profoundly affect plant research?
It turns out that it is already doing so, at several different levels.

The Multispeq is produced and distributed to its end users at a fraction of the cost (1-2%) of an instrument with similar capabilities, several hundred dollars to be more precise. The use of the online platform is free of charge to all users who wish to contribute data. This means that research groups in underdeveloped African countries can equally effectively use both technologies, as US-based research labs with millions of dollars in funding. In fact, there are some very active research groups in Malawi that contribute data on a daily basis. Equally important, there are research teams across the US that use the PhotosynQ platform to collaborate virtually on joint research projects.

Multispeq version 1.0

The MultispeQ device Version 1.0

With the press of a button, and most of the times within a fraction of a second, the Mutispeq takes measurements of a range of plant health parameters, including: chlorophyll content/SPAD, photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) levels, photosystem I and photosystem II efficiency, proton motive force (PMF), and non-photochemical quenching (NPQ). The device can also measure ambient temperature, pressure and humidity and utilizes geotagging and time stamp features from the user’s cell phone. Collected data is instantly stored in the cloud and made available to project participants worldwide. The PhotosynQ team is presently developing additional capabilities for the instrument such as anthocyanin content measurements in the leaves and fruit, as well as soil conductivity, temperature and moisture measurements (with an add-on).

At the moment, there are over one thousand registered users of the PhotosynQ platform from more than 18 participating countries who have collectively taken more than 227,000 measurements. At this early stage in the project, it is hard to try and predict the potential significance of data contributed by researchers worldwide. However, with large data sets, one thing inevitably comes to mind – data mining.

Could any of the identified trends in data be used as predictors for plant/crop performance in the future? And, could these trends be turned into algorithms that can be used to guide farmers in their efforts to maximize crop yield and minimize losses?

Prof. Kramer hinted answers to these important questions during last week’s conference. He showed a data plot which clearly indicated a high degree of correlation between photosynthetic parameters recorded early in a plant’s life and crop yield, months later. And this is where, researchers will largely agree, science meets the real world and has its most profound impact – in practice.

It will be exciting to follow the progress of the PhotosynQ project in the coming months and years. In the meantime, researchers are encouraged to learn more about the technologies it offers and explore the possibility of joining the growing global community of MultispeQ and PhotosynQ  users.

For a more detailed recap of the the first PhotosynQ workshop please visit the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory News page.

*If you liked this article, don’t forget to sign up to my blog at the top right corner.*

Jasenka Piljac Zegarac is a scientist and freelance writer. She holds a PhD in biology and a BS degree in biochemistry, and contributes on a regular basis to several health and science blogs. Her scientific publications have gathered more than 1100 citations. She may be contacted for assistance with a variety of science and medical writing projects.

Vitamin D: Implications in Diabetes and Beyond

Vitamin D2

Vitamins are essential organic compounds that the body cannot make on its own and has to obtain through diet or supplementation. Vitamin D was discovered in early 1920s, in an experiment performed by Elmer Verner McCollum and his co-workers. This group of scientists noticed that heated, oxidized cod-liver oil could cure rickets in rats but was not effective in preventing xerophthalmia.1 The ‘’antirickets factor’’ was initially misclassified as the fourth vitamin due to its presence as a trace component in the diet. Years later, scientists realized that vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone synthesized in the skin upon exposure to UVB light from the sun. It exists in two main forms, cholecalciferol (Vit. D3) and ergocalciferol (vit D2); cholecalciferol is also known as the active form.

The predominant function of vitamin D in the body is the increase of serum calcium and phosphate levels and promotion of bone mineralization.2 Although vitamin D deficiency has been traditionally linked with bone conditions such as osteomalacia and rickets, recent research has shown that inadequate levels of vitamin D may have implications in a variety of health conditions and diseases, such as: immune deficiency, respiratory infections, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurocognitive disorders.3 In addition, several meta-analyses have pointed to an increased risk of mortality associated with both low and high 25(OH)D levels.4-6

A recent meta-analysis published in the Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice journal found serum 25(OH)D levels to be significantly lower in patients with type I diabetes than in healthy controls.7 This meta-analysis included 23 studies, with participants divided among two groups – the children and adolescents group (1900 total), and the adults group (3494 total). The association between low serum 25(OH)D levels and type one diabetes was observed in both groups, but it was not clear whether a causative relationship exists. Study limitations included not taking into account several potentially important factors, such as differences in latitude or sun exposure and genetic factors.

A different article published in the February 2015 issue of the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, also attracted substantial attention of the scientific community.8 This cross-sectional study conducted by Spanish researchers included 148 participants from two hospitals in Spain. The study participants were classified according to their BMI and the presence of diabetes and prediabetes, or absence of glycemic disorders. Vitamin D levels, as well as vitamin D receptor gene expression, were assessed in study participants. The study found higher levels of vitamin D in obese subjects who did not have glucose metabolism disorders than diabetic subjects. Similarly, low levels of vitamin D were found in lean subjects suffering from diabetes or another glucose metabolism disorder. The study concluded that vitamin D levels are associated more closely with glucose metabolism than obesity.

Due to targeted research efforts of the international scientific community, new insights about the connection between vitamin D levels and specific chronic conditions, beyond diabetes, are becoming available by the day. At the same time, the deficiency/insufficiency of vitamin D has become a public health concern, especially in developing countries.A high prevalence of hypovitaminosis D was observed in China and Mongolia, especially in children. In addition, according to research published within the past ten years, one-third to one-half of individuals from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East have serum 25(OH)D levels below 25 nmol/L, despite adequate sunshine throughout the year.

The available data on vitamin D’s role in a variety of physiological and preventative functions are in accordance with the recent recommendations to monitor and improve vitamin D levels in children and adults. The Endocrine Society clinical practice guidelines from 2011 define optimal serum 25(OH)D levels to be above 30 ng/mL, with preferred range being 40-60 ng/mL.10 The recommended daily allowance varies depending on the age.  Safe sunlight exposure, consumption of foods fortified with vitamin D and/or supplementation are effective ways of maintaining optimal serum 25(OH)D levels.

References

  1. McCollum EV, Simmonds N, Becker JE, Shipley PG. Studies on experimental rickets. XXI. An experimental demonstration of the existence of a vitamin which promotes calcium deposition. J. Biol. Chem.1922;53:293-312.
  2. Garg M, Lubel JS, Sparrow MP, Holt SG, Gibson PR. Review article: Vitamin D and inflammatory bowel disease – established concepts and future directions. Aliment. Pharmacol. Ther. 2012;36(4):324-44.
  3. Gröber U, Reichrath J, Holick MF. Live Longer With Vitamin D. Nutrients. 2015;7:1871-1880.
  4. Melamed ML, Michos ED, Post W, Astor B. 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and the risk of mortality in the general population. Arch. Intern. Med. 2008;168:1629–1637.
  5.  Dobnig H, Pilz S, Scharnagl H, Renner W, Seelhosrt U, Wellnitz B, Kinkeldei J, Boehm BO, Weihrauch G, Maerz W. Independent association of low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D levels with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. Arch. Intern. Med. 2008; 168:1340–1349.
  6. Zittermann A, Iodice S, Pilz S, Grant WB, Bagnardi V, Gandini S. Vitamin D deficiency and mortality risk in the general population: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2012;95:91–100.
  7. Feng R, Li Y, Li G, Li Z, Zhang Y, Li Q, Sun C. Lower serum 25(OH)D concentrations in type 1 diabetes: A meta-analysis. Diabetes Res. Clin. Pr. 2015, in press (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.diabres.2014.12.008).
  8. Clemente-Postigo M, Muñoz-Garach A, Serrano M, Garrido-Sánchez L, Bernal-López MR, Fernández-García D, Moreno-Santos I, Garriga N, Castellano-Castillo D, Camargo A, Fernández-Real JM, Cardona F, Tinahones FJ, Macías-González M. Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D and adipose tissue vitamin D receptor gene expression: Relationship with obesity and type 2 diabetes. J Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 2015;100(4):E591-E595.
  9. Arabi A, Rassi RE, Fuleihan G E-H. Hypovitaminosis D in developing countries – prevalence, risk factors and outcomes. Nat. Rev. Endocrinol. 2010;6(10):550-61.
  10. Holick MF, Binkley NC, Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Gordon CM, Hanley DA, Heaney RP, Murad MH, Weaver CM. Endocrine Society. Evaluation, treatment, and prevention of vitamin D deficiency: An endocrine society clinical practice guideline. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 2011; 96:1911–1930.

Jasenka Piljac Zegarac is a scientist and freelance writer. She holds a PhD in biology and a BS degree in biochemistry, and contributes on a regular basis to several health and science blogs. Her scientific publications have gathered more than 1100 citations. She may be contacted for assistance with a variety of science and medical writing projects.

Women and Heart Disease

Heart image

Image: Depositphotos

Traditionally perceived as a predominantly male problem, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are in fact the number one killer of women.1 Cardiovascular diseases cause approximately 46% of older women’s deaths globally, with the additional 14% of deaths caused by cancers – most commonly lung, breast, colon and stomach cancers.

More than 400,000 American women die each year from CVDs, at a rate that is close to one death per minute. 2,3 Adding to the poor prognosis is the finding that nearly two-thirds of women with fatal outcomes never experienced any warning symptoms.3 The situation with CVDs in younger women also warrants attention.  The mortality from coronary heart disease among women age 35 to 44 years showed an average annual increase of 1.3% between 1997 and 2002.4 The projected increase in coronary heart disease deaths in 2020, compared to 2006, is 9% for women age 35-44 and 15.9% for women age 45-54.5

A complicating factor in developing a tailored treatment approach for women lies in the fact that they have been largely underrepresented in clinical trials. In addition, approximately three-fourths of clinical trials conducted in CVD subjects do not report gender-specific results.6 Researchers are now making an effort to close this information gap by including female subjects and comparing CVD outcomes between the two genders.

A recent study examined the association between multiple cardiac risk factors and the presence of obstructive coronary artery disease in men and women.7 The study found that women with diabetes, hypertension, and smoking had significantly greater odds ratios for obstructive coronary artery disease than men with identical risk factors. The differences between genders were even more pronounced in patients with multiple risk factors. Women with four cardiac risk factors had almost double the risk for obstructive coronary artery disease compared with men.

Another relevant study reviewed 64 cohort studies published between January 1st, 1966 and February 13th, 2013 in Medline and focused on identifying any sex differences in the effect of diabetes on the risk of CVD. 8 The study reported that diabetes increases the risk of incident coronary heart disease in women by more than 40% compared with men with diabetes. The reason behind such a difference in diabetes-related risk of coronary heart diseases in men and women is poorly understood. Higher levels of CVD risk factors and relative undertreatment in women do not account for all of the excess risk observed. Elucidating the causes behind gender differences in risk factors would have important implications in management and treatment of CVD in women.

It is an unfortunate fact that the increasing body of knowledge available on heart disease, associated risk factors and prevention measures often goes underutilized. The American Heart Association is working on raising awareness through education and advocacy.2 The FDA has joined in these efforts by identifying four important guidelines for women: eating a heart healthy diet, managing existing health conditions, learning the facts about aspirin, and recognizing the signs of a heart attack. NIH’s The Heart Truth program sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute aims ‘’to raise awareness about heart disease and its risk factors among women and educate and motivate them to take action to prevent the disease and control its risk factors.’’

Through targeted research, education, and close communication between the healthcare providers and patients, CVD outcomes in women will likely improve. Heart disease rarely develops in the absence of the major risk factors, such as: elevated levels of blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, and diabetes. February is American Heart Month – a perfect time to re-evaluate your own risks for CVD and prompt the women in your life to be proactive about their health. It is time to speak loudly about the silent killer.

 References

  1. Women’s health. WHO Fact sheet no. 334. September 2013. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2011.
  2. Cardiovascular Disease: Women’s No. 1 Health Threat. Fact sheet. American Heart Association. 2013.
  3. Go AS, Mozaffarian D, Roger VL, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics – 2013 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2013; 127:e6-e245.
  4. Ford, Earl S. and Capewell, Simon. Coronary Heart Disease Mortality Among Young Adults in the U.S. From 1980 through 2002: Concealed Leveling of Mortality Rates. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2007; 50(22):2128-32.
  5. Huffman MD, Lloyd-Jones DM, Ning H, et al. Quantifying options for reducing coronary heart disease mortality by 2020. Circulation. 2013; 127:2477–84.
  6. Blauwet LA, Hayes SN, McManus D, et. al. Low rate of sex-specific result reporting in cardiovascular trials. Mayo Clin Proc. 2007; 82:166-170.
  7. Ko DT, Wijeysundera HC, Udell JA, et al. Traditional cardiovascular risk factors and the presence of obstructive coronary artery disease in men and women. Can J Cardiol. 2014; 30(7):820-6.
  8. Peters SAE, Huxley RR, Woodward M. Diabetes as risk factor for incident coronary heart disease in women compared with men: a systemic review and meta-analysis of 64 cohorts including 858,507 individuals and 28,203 coronary events. Diabetologia. 2014; 57:1542-1551.

Jasenka Piljac Zegarac is a scientist and freelance writer. She holds a PhD in biology and a BS degree in biochemistry, and contributes on a regular basis to several health and science blogs. Her scientific publications have gathered more than 1100 citations. She may be contacted for assistance with a variety of science and medical writing projects.

Herbal Medicine: Then and Now

herbal medicineHerbal medicine has a long history of use in many cultures throughout the world for prevention and treatment of disease. From Traditional Chinese Medicine and Indian Ayurveda, to Traditional European Medicine and Unani, herbs and spices have been utilized as a medical resource for centuries. The World Health Organization defines traditional medicine as ‘’the knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures, used in the maintenance of health and in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.’’1

In ancient Mesopotamia, the birthplace of modern civilization, asu physicians applied dressings with medicinal herbs to treat wounds and open sores.2 As far back as the 3000 BC, the Sumerians utilized all plant parts: branches, roots, seeds, bark, and sap in preparation of herbal medicine. Current traditional medicine approaches vary based on the geographic area where they are practiced, but have a few things in common: a focus on the connection between the mind, body and the environment, and an emphasis on preserving one’s health instead of treating disease.3

The use of herbs and spices is an integral part of all forms of traditional medicine. The World Health Organization estimates that 3.5 billion people worldwide (approximately 65% of the total population) use medicinal plants for their basic healthcare needs.There are multiple reasons why patients turn to herbal and traditional medicine for solutions:  affordability, poor access to modern medicine, dissatisfaction with the results of mainstream medical treatment or its adverse effects, and the belief that herbal medicine is natural. In addition, the patients appreciate the extra time allocated by a traditional medicine practitioner, as well as a holistic approach to treatment.

While herbal medicine dominates in underdeveloped and developing countries of Africa, Asia and in India, a growing interest in natural therapies and ethnobotanicals has also been observed in industrialized countries. According to a CDC report published in 2007, about 38% of adults and 12% of children in the United States used some form of traditional medicine.5 The same report indicates that, besides vitamins and minerals, herbal therapy and natural products were the most common alternative medicine treatments utilized. The results of the National Health Interview Survey conducted in 2012 confirmed again that, aside from vitamins and minerals, dietary supplements are the most common complementary health approach used by US adults (17.9%).6 The worldwide annual market for herbal medicine has been estimated at US$ 60 billion.7

Medicinal plants are important sources of modern-day lifesaving medications, and a converging point between traditional and mainstream medicine. Some examples of plant-derived drugs include the potent anticancer medications vincristine, isolated from the periwinkle flower tree (Catharanthus roseus), and taxol, extracted from the bark of the Pacific yew tree (Taxus brevifolia). Another good example is digoxin, isolated from foxglove (Digitalis sp.) and used in the treatment of congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation.

Unfortunately, the search for effective natural drug candidates is laborious, costly, time-consuming, and often not very efficient. Similar to the development of synthetic drugs, the development of plant-derived medicines is a step-by-step process that includes elucidating the mechanism of action of the active principle, efficacy and safety testing, and quality control of the final formulation. Often, active principles are derived from rare or slow-growing plants, which imposes limits on the quantities of available material and impedes the drug development process.

Herbal medicine will continue to play an important role in both developing and industrialized countries, owing in part to increasing patient demand for natural treatments. In ancient times, therapists had to rely on trial and error approaches and were often guided by spiritual beliefs in identifying effective treatments. With modern-day tools, objective scientific criteria, and advanced research practices, scientists and medical practitioners will continue to play an instrumental role in the development of plant-derived drugs for the benefit of future generations.

References

  1. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/topics/traditional_medicine/en/
  2. Teall EK. Medicine and Doctoring in Ancient Mesopotamia. Grand Valley Journal of History. 2013; 3(1): 1-8.
  3. Wachtel-Galor, Benzie FF. Chapter 1: Herbal Medicine: An Introduction to Its History, Usage, Regulation, Current Trends, and Research Needs. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, eds. Herbal Medicine Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2011:1-10.
  4. World Health Organization, 2007. WHO guidelines for assessing quality of herbal medicines with reference to contaminants and residues. WHO Press, Geneva, Switzerland.
  5. Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin RL. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults and children: United States, 2007. National health statistics reports; no 12. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2008.
  6. Peregoy, JA, Clarke, TA, Jones, LI, et al. Regional Variation in Use of Complementary Health Approaches by U.S. Adults. NCHS Data Brief no. 146. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014.
  7. Tilburt, JC, Kaptchuk TJ. Herbal medicine research and global health: An ethical analysis. Bull World Health Organ. 2008; 86(8):594–9.

Jasenka Piljac Zegarac is a scientist and freelance writer. She holds a PhD in biology and a BS degree in biochemistry, and contributes on a regular basis to several health and science blogs. Her scientific publications have gathered more than 1100 citations. She may be contacted for assistance with a variety of science and medical writing projects.

Heart Health: The Mediterranean Diet Revisited

Mediter foods1Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the number one cause of death globally.1 The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that the number of CVD-associated deaths will increase to reach a staggering 23.3 million by 2030, and that CVDs will remain the single leading cause of death worldwide.2 Due to such a profound impact of CVDs on population health, numerous research studies have focused on identifying effective heart disease prevention measures. It has been postulated that behavioral risk factors account for about 80% of coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease,1 indicating that dietary and lifestyle patterns play a pivotal role in their prevention. In the sea of bad news surrounding CVDs, this, in fact, is a piece of good news.

Exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco use, and following a healthy diet are effective measures aimed at warding off heart disease. But what exactly falls under the broad definition of a healthy diet, what are its key ingredients, and what is their mechanism of action? While other plant-based diets may exert similar protective effects, this article will present a brief overview of several important studies correlating the Mediterranean diet with heart health.

The main ingredients of the Mediterranean diet are fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and cereals, olive oil and fish. Low-to-moderate intake of dairy products and red meat, and moderate intake of wine with meals, are also typical for the Mediterranean diet.3 A study published in 2003 in the New England Journal of Medicine followed 22,043 adults in Greece during a median period of 44 months.4 The study found that a high degree of adherence to the Mediterranean diet, assessed on a scale of 0 to 9, was associated with an overall reduction in total mortality during the 44 month follow-up period. In addition, greater adherence to this diet was inversely associated with death due to coronary disease and death due to cancer.

Another large, multicenter, nutritional intervention study, termed the PREDIMED study, was launched in Spain in 2003. This randomized trial followed 7447 persons in the age range 55-80 years, from 2003 to 2011, with the aim of investigating the effects of the Mediterranean diet on prevention of major cardiovascular events in high-risk persons. Study participants were divided into three dietary intervention groups: a low-fat diet group, a Mediterranean diet group supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, and a Mediterranean diet group supplemented with tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts). The main finding of this large trial was that the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or tree nuts reduced the risk of suffering from CVD-related death, myocardial infarction or stroke by approximately 30 percent.5

Although a positive correlation between the Mediterranean diet and heart health has been established, less information is available on the mechanism by which this diet exerts its effects.  In which segment of the long cascade of events leading to CVD does the Mediterranean diet exert protection? Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive, inflammatory disease that starts with injury to the arterial wall and, over time, leads to the build-up of cholesterol-filled plaques in the inner lining of the artery. Arterial hardening and narrowing follows, causing obstructed blood flow. Accumulation of inflammatory cells at the site of injury is an important step in this process, thus, assessment of the biomarkers of inflammation can indicate disease progression and plaque instability.

A recent study investigated the effects of the Mediterranean diet on biomarkers of inflammation and plaque instability in persons with high risk for CVD.6 One hundred sixty four subjects were included in the study and randomized into three diet groups as follows: a low-fat diet group, a Mediterranean diet group supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, and a Mediterranean diet group supplemented with tree nuts. After 12 months of intervention, changes in inflammatory biomarkers and plaque vulnerability were measured.  A significant decrease in inflammatory biomarkers was observed in subjects adhering to the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts, in addition to a reduction in cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, and LDL- and total cholesterol levels. It appears that the Mediterranean diet exerts its effect at least at two levels, although additional mechanistic studies are necessary to draw any final conclusions.

The peoples occupying the Mediterranean region, such as Sicilians, have been known for their good health and longevity, and although the Mediterranean diet is not the only influencing factor, it is likely one of the more significant ones. 7 The good news is that it may never be too late to make in change in one’s dietary habits. Positive effects in the main cardiovascular risk factors have been observed only three months after implementing a supplemented Mediterranean diet in persons at high cardiovascular risk, aged 55 to 80 years.8 With this in mind, you just might discover new appreciation for the distinct flavor and aroma of olive oil.

References

  1. Global status report on noncommunicable diseases 2010. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2011.
  2. Mathers CD, Loncar D. Projections of global mortality and burden of disease from 2002 to 2030.PLoS Med. 2006; 3(11):e442.
  3. Willett WC, Sacks F, Trichopoulou A, et al. Mediterranean diet pyramid: a cultural model for healthy eating. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995; 61:Suppl 6:S1402-S1406.
  4. Trichopoulou A, Costacou T, Bamia C, et al. Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet and Survival in a Greek Population. N Engl J Med. 2003; 348(26):2599-2608.
  5. Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, et al. Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with Mediterranean Diet. N Engl J Med. 2013; 368(14):1270-90.
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Jasenka Piljac Zegarac is a scientist and freelance writer. She holds a PhD in biology and a BS degree in biochemistry, and contributes on a regular basis to several health and science blogs. Her scientific publications have gathered more than 1100 citations. She may be contacted for assistance with a variety of science and medical writing projects.

Welcome to the Scientist Writer’s Blog

Welcome to the Scientist Writer’s blog!  This blog is here primarily for educational purposes and consists of short, thoroughly researched articles on a variety of medical and science topics. A list of references is provided at the end of each article so that you can go back to the source for more information. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about the latest developments in science and medical research. If you like my content, don’t forget to sign up for regular updates by entering your e-mail on the far right!

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