Following a Mediterranean diet can extend a person's lifespan and reduce the risk of mortality in elderly people, according to a new study.
Italian researchers from the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention of the IRCCS Neuromed, in Molise, Italy, analysing the relationship between a traditional Mediterranean diet and mortality found the life-prolonging link when studying participants over the age of 65 who adhered to the diet.
According to the findings, the diet, comprised of a mix of fruit, vegetables, fish, olive oil, and moderate wine consumption, is associated with a 25 per cent reduction of “all-cause mortality” and the effect remains when considering “cardiovascular or cerebrovascular mortality” as well.
The research was conducted by studying a sample of more than 5,000 people over the age of 65 participating in the Moli-sani study, a 2005 study from the general population of a Southern Italian region, as well as by building upon other epidemiological studies, for a total of 12,000 subjects.
Although the knowledge that the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of mortality is not new, this is the first time it has been shown to have a positive effect solely on the elderly.
Commenting on the findings, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, epidemiologist and first author Marialaura Bonaccio said: “The novelty of our research is to have focused our attention on a population over 65 years old.
“We already knew that the Mediterranean diet is able to reduce the risk of mortality in the general population, but we did not know whether it would be the same specifically for elderly people.”
And the more you follow the diet, which includes limiting red meat consumption, the better the results, according to Licia Lacoviello, head of the Laboratory of Molecular and Nutritional Epidemiology at Neuromed Institute and professor at the University of Insubria, Varese.
“Through the technique of meta-analysis, we could confirm that a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet lowers overall mortality risk in a dose-response, progressive way,” said Dr Lacoviello. “In other words, the more you follow the Mediterranean diet, the greater the gain in terms of mortality risk reduction.”
Notably, the researchers found that a “moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages, if inserted in a Mediterranean food context, is a protective factor for our health.”
A high consumption of monounsaturated fats, found in olive oil and fish - and a significant part of the diet, also greatly increases protection.
Giovanni de Gaetano, director of the Department, said: "We think that our data launches an important message in terms of public health. With the progressive ageing of the world population, we know that, in a few years, people over 65 will represent about a quarter of Europeans. It is therefore necessary to study and identify those modifiable factors that can guarantee not only a long lifespan, but also an acceptable quality of life.
“Our study is a robust basis to encourage a healthy diet model inspired by the principles of the Mediterranean diet, even among older people.”
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