About one in every four deaths in the United States per year can be attributed to heart disease. If you want to reduce your risk for cardiovascular diseases, you might want to add a dash of olive oil and some vegetables in your diet.

Several studies have shown that a Mediterranean-style diet, which is high in vegetables and olive oil, can help lower blood pressure and reduce risks for heart disease. A study of the effects of a Mediterranean diet on mice can finally shed light on why a combo of extra-virgin olive oil and vegetables is good for the heart.

For the new study "Protection from hypertension in mice by the Mediterranean diet is mediated by nitro fatty acid inhibition of soluble epoxide hydrolase" published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on May 19, Philip Eaton, from Kings College London, and his colleagues used genetically engineered mice to better understand how the Mediterranean diet can help lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease.

They found that when extra-virgin olive oil is consumed together with vegetables, just as in a Mediterranean diet, it forms nitro fatty acids. These fatty acids help reduce hypertension by blocking epoxide hydrolase, an enzyme involved in regulating blood pressure.

For their study, Eaton and colleagues wanted to find out if inhibiting the epoxide hydrolase enzyme could lower blood pressure in mice. High blood pressure is one of the risk factors for heart disease along with smoking, obesity, and diabetes.

They gave enzyme inhibitors to a group of mice that were engineered so the enzyme would be resistant to the effects of nitro fatty acids. They also gave the enzyme inhibitor to another group of mice that were not genetically modified.

The researchers found that the inhibitor protected the second group of mice from heart damage, but not the mice that have been genetically modified. The researchers also observed that the mice with the mutation maintained their high blood pressure regardless that they were given Mediterranean diet.

 "The findings of our study help to explain why previous research has shown that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts can reduce the incidence of cardiovascular problems like stroke, heart failure and heart attacks," Eaton said.

Although the study was conducted on animals, Eaton said the result of the experiment on mice will likely be the same in humans.

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