A strict Mediterranean diet has been associated with quality health, improved brain function and longevity in elderly populations across five European countries (UK, France, Netherlands, Italy and Poland), according to a recent study published in The BMJ medical journal.
The plant-based Mediterranean diet consists of a healthy dose of vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, beans, other legumes and whole grains, according to the Mayo Clinic. Moderate amounts of milk, fish, poultry and eggs are essential to the diet, while red meat is intended to be eaten only sporadically.
The study profiled 612 “non-frail” or “pre-frail” subjects before and after the application of a 12-month Mediterranean diet. The experimental group, consisting of 323 elderly subjects aged 65-79, were place on the diet, while the remaining 289 in the control group remained on their normal diet.
“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 wrote.
The results showed that the diet improved the elderly subjects’ microbiome function, specifically reducing inflammatory chemicals such as C-reactive protein and interleukin-17, which can induce the loss of cognitive function and the onset of frailty. These chemicals also bring on the development of diseases such as cancer and diabetes or the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
Microbiota are “ecological communities of commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space and have been all but ignored as determinants of health and disease,” according to Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist Joshua Lederberg. A commensal relationship is one where one species benefits while the other is unaffected – as opposed to parasitism, where the other is harmed.
“Microbiome ecosystem network analysis showed that the bacterial taxa (community) that responded positively to the MedDiet intervention occupy keystone interaction positions [essential for a stable gut ecosystem], whereas frailty-associated taxa are peripheral in the networks,” the report said.
The European Project on Nutrition in Elderly People study that began in 2012, of which this project is an extension, has presented data showing that the Mediterranean diet had improved cognitive ability and memory function in the subjects who were monitored.
The Mediterranean diet has been ranked No. 1 in US News & World Report’s world’s “best diet” list for the past three years.
“It’s more than a diet, it’s a lifestyle,” dietitian Rahaf Al Bochi told CNN. “It also encourages eating with friends and family, socializing over meals, mindfully eating your favorite foods, as well as mindful movement and exercise.”