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Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Chance of Frailty

Frailty occurs in 10-15 percent of older adults, making it essential to develop strategies for prevention

A new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming a Mediterranean-style diet may prevent frailty. Defined as a recognizable state of increased vulnerability resulting from a decline in function across multiple physiological systems, frailty affects 10–15 percent older adults, and leads to other health issues. Although the general benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet are well known, its role in the reduction of 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 reduces the odds of frailty over 11 years in older adults: Results from the Framingham Offspring Study,” showed that consuming a Mediterranean-style diet, may prevent the development of frailty with aging. The study included 2,384 non-frail adults from the Framingham Offspring Study with Mediterranean-style dietary pattern score and antioxidant intakes [vitamin C, E, and total carotenoids] estimated from a food frequency questionnaire combined with frailty assessments that were conducted over ~11 years. Each unit higher score on the Mediterranean Style Dietary Pattern Score (i.e., higher adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet) reduced the odds of frailty by three percent.

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

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

The Mediterranean-style diet encourages consumptions of fruits and vegetables.

“Increasing the intake of brightly colored fruits and vegetables that are rich in carotenoids as well as other bioactive compounds may ultimately affect the health of older adults,” said Dr. Shivani Sahni, the senior author.

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

Other authors included Elise Costa, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine; Paul F Jacques, DSc, Senior Scientist, Nutritional Epidemiology Team and Professor, Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University; Alyssa B Dufour, PhD, Assistant Scientist II at the Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, Harvard Medical School; Douglas P Kiel, MD, MPH, Director, Musculoskeletal Research Center and Senior Scientist, Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, Harvard Medical School; Marian T Hannan, DSc, MPH, Co-Director, Musculoskeletal Research Center and Senior Scientist, Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, Harvard Medical School; and Shivani Sahni, PhD, Director, Nutrition Program and Associate Scientist, Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, Harvard Medical School.

- This press release was provided by Hebrew SeniorLife Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research