A recent University College London-led study found that following a Mediterranean diet that is rich in olive oil, fruit, vegetables, whole grains and nuts may reduce the risk of frailty in older adults.

The study revealed that people who fastidiously followed the Mediterranean diet were generally around 50 percent less likely to become frail over a near four-year period than those who were careless about adhering to the diet.

Our findings would support the consumption of olive oil as part of a Mediterranean type of diet as being potentially protective for your health in older people.- Kate Walters, University College London

The researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of four published studies that examined the association between sticking to a Mediterranean diet and the development of frailty in older people. 5,789 people over the age of 60 were analyzed. The participants lived in France, Spain, Italy and China.

Their findings suggested that a diet consisting mainly of plant-based foods with low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry kept people independent and healthy as they aged.

Kate Walters, senior author of the study told Olive Oil Times, “All the studies included used the Mediterranean Diet Score to measure the different components of the diet. The consumption of olive oil is one of the components of this score, and the majority of those who score highly on this measure (in the 6-9 range which in our findings have half the risk of becoming frail over nearly 4 years compared to those with the lowest score) will consume above average amounts (the median score for that population) of olive oil within their diet.”

Walters added, “We are unable to say which component of the Mediterranean diet is protective from our research, but our findings would support the consumption of olive oil as part of a Mediterranean type of diet as being potentially protective for your health in older people.”

The diet studied was based on typical eating habits of people from Greece and Southern Italy in the 1960s and included low to moderate amounts of wine but was low in saturated fat and sugar. This type of diet has already been associated with numerous health benefits including lower incidences of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and decreased rates of cancer.

In her report, Walters concluded, “Nutrition is thought to play a crucial role in developing frailty and we found that the Mediterranean diet may help older individuals maintain muscle strength, activity, weight, and energy levels.”

Frailty is common among older people and leads to lack of energy, weight loss and weak muscle strength. It is associated with lower quality of life and can lead to falls, fractures, disability, dementia and premature death.

Lead researcher, Gotaro Kojima added, “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.”

While the study showed that older people who followed a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of becoming frail it is unclear if any other characteristics of the participants may have increased their protection. The researchers concluded that further research is needed to determine exactly how much following a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of frailty.

The study was adjusted to account for many of the major factors that could influence the results including age, gender, social class, smoking, alcohol consumption, amount of exercise and any existing health conditions. Other factors may not have been accounted for or measured.

An earlier study also concluded that adherence to a Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of frailty in older French adults.

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