Eating a Mediterranean diet for just one year ‘reduces vulnerability and keeps the mind sharp’ in old age
A Mediterranean diet could help keep the mind sharp and reduce vulnerability in old age, researchers have discovered.
Retired adults in five countries either followed a diet rich in healthy fats and fruits and vegetables or continued their normal diet for a year.
Researchers analyzed stool samples and found the Mediterranean-style diet stimulated bacteria in the gut.
Some bacteria are linked to healthy aging by preventing vulnerability and memory loss, scientists say.
The study contributes to the increasing evidence that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world.
A Mediterranean diet could keep the mind sharp and reduce vulnerability in old age, researchers have discovered. The traditional Mediterranean diet contains lots of vegetables, fruit, beans and is abundant in healthy fats such as olive oil (photo)
The traditional Mediterranean diet includes many vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains. It is also abundant in healthy fats such as olive oil.
It contains moderate amounts of fish, white meat and some dairy products, and very little sugar and red meat.
Experts from the UK, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland wanted to see if following a Mediterranean diet for one year could improve the microbiome of the participants.
The composition of our intestines is partly determined by our genes, but can also be influenced by lifestyle factors.
Interest in and knowledge about microbiota has recently exploded because we now recognize how essential they are to our health, which affect everything from mood to the development of a serious illness.
Last year, scientists at the California Institute of Technology found the very first link between the gut and Parkinson’s symptoms.
In the latest study, researchers asked half a group of 612 people between the ages of 65 and 79 to eat a Mediterranean diet.
The other half insisted on their existing diet that differed per country. Britons in the study were the least likely to follow a Mediterranean diet naturally, while those in Italy and France were the most.
EXPLANED: THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Consuming more fruits and fish, and fewer sugary drinks and snacks, are the most important aspects of a Mediterranean diet.
- Whole grain
- Fish and meat
- Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil
- Saturated fats, such as butter
- Red meat
- Processed foods such as juice and white bread
- Soft drink
- A glass of red wine here and there is fine
How to follow it:
- Eat more fish
- Squeeze more vegetables and fruits into every meal
- Trade in your sunflower oil or butter for extra virgin olive oil
- Snack on nuts
- Eat fruit for dessert
The new diet was aimed at older people, so it was not difficult for them to stick to it.
Participants were classified as vulnerable, vulnerable or not vulnerable and apparently healthy, according to the findings in the Gut journal.
Researchers analyzed the gut microbiome with stool samples at the start and end of the 12-month diet.
Adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with beneficial changes in the gut microbiome and the loss of bacterial diversity.
Those who adhered most to the diet experienced the greatest gain in desired bacteria, while losing the most “bad” bacteria. In other words, their microbiome was reprogrammed.
The researchers saw an increase in the type of bacteria that was previously associated with indicators of reduced vulnerability, such as walking speed and power of the handle.
A significant positive change was seen in the gut microbiome of people with reduced vulnerability. As a result, their condition was delayed, the researchers said.
For comparison: the group that did not change their usual diet had a steeper decline in vulnerability.
Some bacteria are associated with improved brain function, such as memory. In fact, the researchers saw a slower loss of cognitive functions, such as memory, in the Mediterranean diet group.
Dieting led to a reduction in potentially harmful inflammatory chemicals, namely C-reactive protein and interleukin-17.
They also discovered that microbiome changes were related to a decrease in bacteria involved in the production of some bile acids, which in overproduction are linked to an increased risk of colon cancer, insulin resistance, liver fat and cell damage.
Those who followed their normal diet, on the other hand, had no significant changes in the diversity of their gut bacteria.
The researchers said the most striking finding was how strong the relationship was between an improved intestinal environment and markers of aging.
They were also surprised to see that the Mediterranean diet had an effect on all participants, regardless of where they lived, and the same bacteria reacted.
The changes were largely driven by an increase in dietary fiber, which would come from fruits and vegetables, the team said.
Vitamins and minerals – in particular C, B6, B9, copper, potassium, iron, manganese and magnesium – also played a major role.
The authors warned that a Mediterranean diet can be impractical for the elderly with dental problems or swallowing problems.
Previous studies suggest that a restrictive diet, common in the elderly, reduces the diversity of the microbiome in the gut. But it can be difficult for the elderly to eat a varied diet.