Does the Mediterranean diet protect the elderly against frailty?

Thanks to its beneficial effects on the gut microbiota, the Mediterranean diet is considered the best defense against age-related frailty syndrome.

 

Ageing is associated with the deterioration of numerous body functions and generalized inflammation, which contribute to frailty syndrome* among the elderly. It seems highly likely that diet plays a role in this process, since lack of variety leads to alterations in the gut microbiota thought to increase the risk of frailty. Conversely, it is possible that a balanced diet contributes towards maintaining or restoring the bacterial flora and helps fight frailty. A group of researchers sought to find out whether this is the case, focusing specifically on the Mediterranean diet**.

“Good” bacteria associated with “good” ageing

The Mediterranean diet is the “ultimate” healthy diet, and offers many benefits, including reduced inflammation, lower risk of disease and lower mortality. According to numerous studies, it is also associated with changes in the gut microbiota. The researchers therefore analyzed the gut microbiota of approximately 600 individuals aged between 65 and 79 years who showed few or no signs of frailty. This was done before and after the subjects had followed a normal diet or a Mediterranean diet for one year. With the Mediterranean diet, the gut microbiota remained diverse (associated with good health) and the number of “good” bacteria (associated with decreased frailty, improved brain function and reduced inflammation) increased. The researchers also observed improved memory, increased walking speed and increased strength in participants’ hands.

Bacteria to protect against frailty?

These results confirm the benefits of Mediterranean diet for the elderly, and reveal that part of these benefits is directly linked to changes in the gut microbiota. The results therefore open up new avenues for the prevention of frailty among people at risk, based on direct administration of the “good” bacteria identified in the study.

 

* * Frailty syndrome is diagnosed based on three of the following five criteria: sedentary lifestyle; recent weight loss; exhaustion or fatigue; decreased muscle strength; and slow walking pace. It involves a risk of functional decline, institutionalization, and death (French National Academy of Medicine, 2013). http://www.academie-medecine.fr/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/tap-pages-1009-1020.pdf

** Rich in fruit, vegetables, cereals, oilseeds (nuts) and fish, and low in red meat, saturated fats and dairy products.

 

Sources:

Ghosh TS, Rampelli S, Jeffery IB, et al. Mediterranean diet intervention alters the gut microbiome in older people reducing frailty and improving health status: the NU-AGE 1-year dietary intervention across five European countries. Gut 2020;0:1–11. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2019-319654