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Mediterranean diet may lower women's risk for heart disease by 24%, study finds

Understanding heart attack warning signs in women
Understanding heart attack warning signs in women 02:20

Following a Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of heart disease in women, a new study suggests.

Researchers found the diet was associated with a 24% lower risk of cardiovascular disease in women and a 23% lower risk of total mortality, according to the study published in the journal Heart.

A Mediterranean diet, patterned on the traditional cuisines of the region, emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, nuts and whole grains.

While the benefits of this way of eating have been researched before, this meta-analysis, which looked at 16 prior studies, marks the first time the association between the diet and heart disease has been studied specific to women, according to the authors. 

"This study highlights the need to include sex specific analysis in research and translate such findings into clinical practice guidelines," the study states, calling it "an important step."

This isn't the first time sex-based disparities have come to light in regards to women's heart health.

Despite heart disease being the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women, studies show women wait longer to seek medical care than men — sometimes because women don't know their symptoms can be different and often more subtle than men's.

The American Heart Association says the most common heart attack symptom for both men and women is chest pain or discomfort, but women don't always experience that. "Women might also have non-chest pain symptoms and less obvious warning signs," the AHA says, including pain or pressure in the lower chest or upper abdomen, neck or jaw pain, shortness of breath, fainting, nausea or vomiting and fatigue.

As CBS News' Norah O'Donnell has reported, knowing the ways heart attacks can present in women can be lifesaving, and eating a healthy diet, getting consistent sleep, knowing family history and trying to keep stress to a minimum can help reduce the risk. 

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