Background: The cardioprotective property of the Mediterranean diet has been attributed to its antioxidant capacity, but direct investigation of this mechanism has been limited.
Objective: We examined the association between the Mediterranean diet and an established plasma marker of oxidative stress, the ratio of reduced to oxidized glutathione (GSH/GSSG), in a well-controlled study of twins.
Design: We administered the Willett food-frequency questionnaire to 138 monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs and to 21 unpaired twins and derived a score measuring adherence to the Mediterranean diet. Fasting plasma GSH and GSSG concentrations were measured to calculate the GSH/GSSG ratio. The higher the ratio, the lower the oxidative stress. Mixed-effect regression analysis was used to partition the association into between- and within-twin pair differences. When within-pair effects are examined, twins are matched for sociodemographic and familial factors.
Results: A one-unit increment in the diet score was associated with a 7% higher GSH/GSSG ratio (P = 0.03) after adjustment for energy intake, other nutritional factors, cardiovascular disease risk factors, and medication use. The association persisted within twin pairs: a one-unit within-pair absolute difference in the diet score was associated with a 10% (95% CI: 2.7, 18.0) higher GSH/GSSG ratio in the twin with the higher score than in the co-twin with the lower score (P = 0.007). Results were similar in monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs.
Conclusions: The association between the Mediterranean diet and plasma oxidative stress is robust and is not confounded by genetic or shared environmental factors. Decreased oxidative stress is a plausible mechanism linking the Mediterranean diet to reduced cardiovascular disease risk.