A study found adherence to the Mediterranean diet helps protect women from some of the harmful health consequences of menopause.
While the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) has been linked to a lower incidence of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, few studies have explored its effects on menopausal maladies. Brazilian researchers discovered it reduced the risk of the bone-thinning disease called osteoporosis, as well as the declining muscle strength that plague older women.
Postmenopausal women, especially those with low bone mass, should ask their doctor whether they might benefit from consuming this dietary pattern.
“We found that the Mediterranean diet could be a useful nonmedical strategy for the prevention of osteoporosis and fractures in postmenopausal women,” said lead investigator Thais Rasia Silva. “Postmenopausal women, especially those with low bone mass, should ask their doctor whether they might benefit from consuming this dietary pattern.”
The MedDiet is comprised of a plentiful intake of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, potatoes, grains and seeds; a moderately high consumption of fish; and a low intake of red meat and saturated fat. Moderate, regular red wine consumption is also a part of the eating plan.
According to Silva, researching the diet’s effects on postmenopausal women is important because reduced estrogen production increases the loss of bone mass, which raises the risk of fractures. Another consequence of menopause and aging is diminishing skeletal muscle mass, a problem that decreases strength and contributes to illness and higher death rates.
The participants in the study were 103 healthy women from Brazil of an average age of 55 who had experienced menopause an average of 5.5 years earlier. All the women underwent tests to measure their bone mineral density, muscle mass and total body fat. They also completed food frequency questionnaires of what they had eaten in the previous month.
Analysis of the data showed those who adhered more closely to the MedDiet had a significantly higher bone mineral density at the lumbar spine, along with greater muscle mass, said Silva. The apparent link was independent of their current level of physical activity, prior smoking behavior or whether they were previously taking hormone replacement medications.
“You need sufficient calcium to strengthen your bones and vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium. Foods containing these nutrients are staples of the MedDiet,” nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto told Olive Oil Times.
“For example, beans contain 191 mg of calcium per cup, and green leafy vegetables like broccoli and kale contain 43 grams per cup. Vitamin D food sources in this eating plan include eggs and oily fish, such as salmon.”
An additional finding was that the participants with high MedDiet adherence had approximately five more years of school attendance than those with low adherence.
“It is pertinent to mention this higher education level because evidence indicates that diet quality may be linked to education and plays an important role in determining food consumption behavior in Brazil and also in other studies in a Mediterranean region,” said Silva.
The study was presented at ENDO 2018, the Endocrine Society’s 100th annual meeting in Chicago, Ill.