Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) can be caused by hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), inflammation, and even thrombosis. The problem is thought to affect over 20 per cent of people over the age of 56, with about 10m people affected in the US alone.
The new study, published in the journal Atherosclerosis (Vol. 186, pp. 200-206), assessed the nutrient and dietary intake of 1251 home-dwelling people with an average age of 68 using the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) questionnaire.
The InCHIANTI study, led by Claudio Pedone from the Universita "Campus Biomedico" in Rome, measured the prevalence of PVD using the ankle-brancial index (ABI). The lower systolic blood pressure at the ankle was divided by the lower systolic pressure at the arm. Values less than 0.9 signified the presence of PVD.
The researchers found that three dietary factors were associated with lower risks of PVD. A daily intake of vegetable lipids, mostly from olive oil, of 34 grams or more cut the risk of PVD by more than 60 per cent. Higher blood levels of HDL cholesterol were also linked with a lower risk, with every 10 milligrams per decilitre increase associated with a 24 per cent lower risk.
Vitamin E intake of 7.7 milligrams per day or more cut the risk of PVD by a whopping 63 per cent.
"Vitamin E has been shown to have an anti-atherosclerotic effect on the basis of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory proprties," wrote the researchers. The lack of positive results from clinical trials however for both cardiovascular disease and oxidation of LDL-cholesterol suggest that the effects observed in this study were not due to vitamin E alone, say the scientists.
"The present result might be a chance finding, or, more likely, the intake of vitamin E, as that of vegetable lipids, may be a marker of healthy dietary habits," wrote lead author Raffaele Antonelli-Incalzi.
The study has several limitations, most notably the lack of patients with moderate to severe PVD, which limited the researchers' ability to assess the "full spectrum" of PVD.
"Our findings suggest that a person with a high intake of vegetable lipids, mainly of olive oil and vitamin E are less likely to be affected by PVD," concluded Antonelli-Incalzi.
The result is in-keeping with the growing body of scientific evidence linking a Mediterranean-style diet to lower rates of heart disease. The diet has also been championed as a way of reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease and birth defects, and has been said to help people live longer.