Adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet may prevent frailty, study finds

A new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming a Mediterranean-style diet can prevent frailty. Defined as a recognizable state of increased vulnerability resulting from a decline in function in several physiological systems, frailty affects 10-15% of older adults and leads to other health problems. Although the general benefits of a Mediterranean-type diet are well known, its role in reducing frailty in older Americans who do not normally consume such a diet was unclear.

The study titled “Adherence to the Mediterranean-style diet and high intake of total carotenoids reduce the risk of frailty over 11 years in the elderly: results from the Framingham offspring study”, showed that the consumption of a Mediterranean-style diet may prevent the development of frailty with age. The study included 2,384 non-frail adults from the Framingham Offspring Study with a Mediterranean-style diet score and antioxidant intakes [vitamin C, E, and total carotenoids] estimated from a food frequency questionnaire combined with frailty assessments conducted over approximately 11 years. Each unit of higher score on the Mediterranean-style eating pattern score (i.e., greater adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet) reduced the odds of frailty by 3%.

The study also determined whether specific antioxidants (carotenoids, vitamins E and C) found in a Mediterranean-style diet are linked to frailty. Higher intake of carotenoids (an antioxidant commonly found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables) had the strongest association with a reduced likelihood of developing frailty in middle-aged and older men and women. aged from the Framingham Heart Study, reporting that each 10 mg higher total carotenoid intake reduces the risk of frailty by 16%. Vitamins E and C were not significantly associated with preventing frailty.

Courtney L Millar, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, Marcus Institute of Aging Research, Hebrew SeniorLife, and Harvard Medical School, is lead author. “People may be able to prevent frailty by following the principles of the Mediterranean-style diet,” Dr. Millar said.

The Mediterranean type diet encourages the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Increasing consumption of brightly colored fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids as well as other bioactive compounds may ultimately affect the health of older adults.”

Dr. Shivani Sahni, lead author

The Framingham Heart Study, Boston University and Tufts University collaborated on this observational study. This study was funded by support from the National Institute on Aging at the Boston Claude D. Pepper Center OAIC and the Peter and Barbara Sidel Fund.


Journal reference:

Millar, CL, et al. (2022) Adherence to the Mediterranean-style diet and high total carotenoid intake reduce 11-year risk of frailty in older adults: findings from the Framingham Offspring study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


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