Eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, legumes, nuts and fish – a Mediterranean diet long followed in Israel – can reduce the risk of frailty in older people, according to a new meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
An analysis of published studies indicates that following the Mediterranean diet can help the elderly be healthy and independent as they age.
Frailty is common among older people, and its prevalence is increasing as the population ages. Frail older adults may often feel low in energy and experience weight loss and weak muscles. They are more likely to suffer from numerous health concerns, including falls, fractures, hospitalization, placement in nursing homes and geriatric hospitals, disability, dementia and premature death. Frailty is also associated with a lower quality of life.
Nutrition is thought to play a crucial role in developing frailty. The team led by Dr. Kate Walters and Dr. Gotaro Kojima of University College London looked to see if following a healthful diet might decrease one’s risk of frailty. The researchers analyzed evidence from all published studies, examining associations between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and the development of frailty in older individuals. Their analysis included 5,789 people in four studies in France, Spain, Italy and China.
“We found the evidence was very consistent that older people who follow a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of becoming frail,” said Walters.
“People who followed a Mediterranean diet the most were overall less than half as likely to become frail over a nearly four-year period compared with those who followed it the least. Our study supports the growing body of evidence on the potential health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, in our case for potentially helping older people to stay well as they age,” said Kojima.
Although older people who followed a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of becoming frail, it’s unclear whether other characteristics of the people who followed this diet may have also been factors in their decreased levels of weakness.
“While the studies we included adjusted for many of the major factors that could be associated, such as their age, gender, social class, smoking, alcohol, how much they exercised and how many health conditions they had, there may be other factors that were not measured and we could not account for,” said Walters. “We now need large studies that look at whether increasing how much you follow a Mediterranean diet will reduce your risk of becoming frail.”