A new meta-analysis indicates that following the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of frailty in older individuals. This study suggests that a diet emphasizing primarily plant-based foods – such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts – may help keep people 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 have weight loss and weak muscle strength. They are more likely to suffer from numerous health concerns, including falls, fractures, hospitalization, nursing home placement, disability, dementia, and premature death. Frailty is also associated with a lower quality of life.
Researchers from the University College London analyzed evidence from all published studies, examining associations between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and development of frailty in older individuals. The analysis included 5789 people with a mean follow-up of 3.9 years from 4 studies. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet was based on intake of food items specific to the traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern: high intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, cereals, fish, and olive oil (coupled with low intake of saturated fats); low intake of meat and dairy products; and regular but moderate intake of wine.
The evidence was very consistent: greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with significantly lower incident frailty risk. People who followed a Mediterranean diet most strictly had the lowest frailty risk compared with those who followed it the least (OR = 0.44).
The researcher concluded that the Mediterranean diet may help older individuals maintain muscle strength, activity, weight, and energy levels.
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 helped to protect them. The included studies were adjusted for many factors (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.
This study further supports the growing body of evidence on the potential health benefits of a more plant-based diet (eg. Mediterranean diet), in this case for potentially helping older people to stay well as they age.