Mediterranean Diet Changes Gut Microbiome, Improves Health in Seniors

A new study adds to research that shows adhering to a Mediterranean diet is beneficial for the gut microbiome, which in turn, strongly influences general wellness and aging.

Mar. 4, 2020
By Mary West

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While you can­not stop the relent­less march of time, you can slow the effects of aging on health, a new study pub­lished in the British Med­ical Jour­nal con­firms.

The study found adher­ence to the Mediter­ranean diet (Med­Diet) in the elderly was asso­ci­ated with pos­i­tive changes in the bac­te­r­ial com­mu­nity of the gut called the micro­biome. The changes were linked to indi­ca­tors of less inflam­ma­tion, bet­ter cog­ni­tion and a lower risk of chronic ill­nesses such as ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis, col­orec­tal can­cer and dia­betes.

Col­lec­tively, our find­ings sup­port the fea­si­bil­ity of improv­ing the habit­ual diet to mod­u­late the gut micro­biota which in turn has the poten­tial to pro­mote health­ier aging.- Reearchers

As peo­ple age, they expe­ri­ence higher lev­els of inflam­ma­tion and a decline in body func­tions, both of which lead to frailty and dis­ease.

Ear­lier research showed that frailty cor­re­lates with a loss of diver­sity in the bac­te­r­ial strains that make up the micro­biome. In the recent study, the authors exam­ined how fol­low­ing the Med­Diet for a year would influ­ence the com­po­si­tion of the micro­biome and affect lev­els of key health mark­ers.

See more: Olive Oil Health Ben­e­fits

The Med­Diet is com­prised mainly of fruits, veg­eta­bles, legumes, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and fish. It is also low in red meat, sat­u­rated fat, sweets and dairy prod­ucts. Sci­en­tists have linked the diet to mul­ti­ple ben­e­fits, includ­ing increased longevity.


Par­tic­i­pants in the study con­sisted of 935 seniors from the Nether­lands, France, Italy, the United King­dom and Poland. Of these, 323 indi­vid­u­als fol­lowed the Med­Diet for 12 months, and the remain­ing 612 ate their reg­u­lar diet.

To com­pare the effects of the two diets, the authors tested for hor­mones related to obe­sity and mark­ers of inflam­ma­tion. They also assessed micro­bial DNA from stool sam­ples and mea­sured the types and num­bers of bac­te­r­ial strains in the gut.

Analy­sis of the results showed sev­eral micro­biome dif­fer­ences between indi­vid­u­als on the Med­Diet and the con­trol group. Close adher­ence to the nutri­tious eat­ing plan was asso­ci­ated with reduced loss of micro­biome diver­sity. The diet also boosted the pop­u­la­tion of bac­te­r­ial strains that are linked to mark­ers of improved cog­ni­tion, less frailty and lower lev­els of inflam­ma­tion.

In addi­tion, the increased num­bers of ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria occu­pied key posi­tions in the gut: con­versely, bac­te­ria asso­ci­ated with frailty were ban­ished to the gut periph­ery. The micro­biome ben­e­fits were tied to increased short-chain fatty acid pro­duc­tion, an effect that has an array of health advan­tages, includ­ing reduced inci­dence of dis­ease.

Pos­i­tive changes noted in the micro­biome were con­nected to improved men­tal and phys­i­cal health. Par­tic­i­pants on the Med­Diet had sharper cog­ni­tion, along with reduced inflam­ma­tion and frailty; there­fore, the effects on gen­eral well­ness pro­duced by the improved gut health were con­firmed.

Inter­est­ingly, the ben­e­fits occurred inde­pen­dently of age, which raises the ques­tion of whether mid­dle-aged and younger indi­vid­u­als can expe­ri­ence the advan­tages of fol­low­ing the eat­ing plan, as well as the elderly.

Accord­ing to coau­thor Paul O’Toole of the APC Micro­biome Insti­tute, the answer is yes.

I par­tic­i­pated in an ear­lier study that shows younger peo­ple can gain some reduc­tion of dietary metabo­lites linked to dis­ease if they adhere to a Med­Diet to some extent,” he told Olive Oil Times.

Col­lec­tively, our find­ings sup­port the fea­si­bil­ity of improv­ing the habit­ual diet to mod­u­late the gut micro­biota which in turn has the poten­tial to pro­mote health­ier aging,” the authors con­cluded.

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