‘Consuming a Mediterranean diet which includes increased intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, unrefined cereals, and fish can reduce bone loss in people with osteoporosis.’
The study is the first long-term, a pan-European clinical trial where more than 1,000 people aged between 65 and 79 participated in the trial. The research team examined the impact of a Mediterranean diet on bone health in older adults.
Details of the Study
The EU-funded trial, led by the University of Bologna, was completed by 1142 participants selected across five centers
in Italy, the UK, the Netherlands, Poland, and France.
The participants were randomized into two groups - one which followed a Mediterranean diet and the other a control group which did not follow the Mediterranean diet.
Participants following the Mediterranean diet increased their intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, unrefined cereals, and fish. They consumed small quantities of dairy products and meat and had a moderate alcohol intake.
People in the control group experienced a usual age-related decrease in bone density, but those following the Mediterranean diet saw a related increase in bone density in one part of the body
, i.e., the femoral neck.
The femoral neck
is the area which connects the shaft of the thigh bone to its rounded head, which fits in the hip joint.
This particular area is highly sensitive for osteoporosis since the loss of bone in the femoral neck is often the cause of hip fracture, which is commonly seen among elderly people with osteoporosis, said Prof. Susan Fairweather-Tait, UK study's lead author from UEA's Norwich Medical School.
"Bone takes a long time to form
, so the 12-month trial, although one of the longest to date, was still a relatively short time frame to show an impact. So the fact we were able to see a marked difference between the groups even in just this one area is significant."
Findings of the Study
In order to encourage participants in the intervention group to stick to the diet, foods such as olive oil and wholemeal pasta were provided. They also offered a small vitamin D supplement, to even out the effects of varying levels of sunlight on vitamin D status between the participating countries.
Blood samples were obtained at the start and end of the trial to check for circulating biomarkers.
Bone density was estimated in over 600 participants across both groups at the lumbar spine and femoral neck. Among these participants, only under 10% were found to have osteoporosis at the start of the study.
However, this is a small number it is sufficient for the changes in femoral neck bone density among the two groups to be statistically significant, said Dr. Amy Jennings, a Co-researcher from UEA.
People with osteoporosis are losing bone at a much faster rate than others.
Hence, you are more likely to pick up changes in these volunteers than those losing bone more slowly, as everyone does with age, Dr. Amy Jennings added.
"With a longer trial, it's possible we could have picked up changes in the volunteers with normal bone density. However, we already found it quite challenging to encourage our volunteers to change their diet for a year, and a longer trial would have made recruitment more difficult and resulted in a higher drop-out."
The research team would now like to see a similar, or ideally more extended, trial in patients with osteoporosis, to strengthen the findings across a larger group and examine if the impact can be observed in other areas of the body. If the condition could be reduced through this diet, it could be a welcoming addition to current drug treatments for osteoporosis, which can reduce the side effects of drugs.
Mediterranean diet is already proven to have several health benefits
such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and cancer, said Prof. Fairweather-Tait. So, there's no harm in adopting such a diet, whether you have osteoporosis or not.