Live longer with the Mediterranean diet

Friday, 31 August, 2018

Live longer with the Mediterranean diet

Individuals over 65 years of age may want to adopt the Mediterranean diet, as Italian research has found it can reduce their mortality risk by 25%.

Following the Mediterranean diet is associated with better mental and physical health, and a reduced risk of mortality in the general population, but its impact on mortality in the elderly was not known.

A study by the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention of the IRCCS Neuromed looked at this link in 5200 individuals aged over 65 from the Moli-sani study cohort over 8 years. They also analysed other epidemiological studies with a total of 12,000 participants. Both revealed that adhering to a Mediterranean diet was key to a long life.

Marialaura Bonaccio, epidemiologist and first author of the study, said their data found that a traditional Mediteranean diet — rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, pulses, olive oil and cereals, and low in meat, dairy products and alcohol — is associated with a 25% reduction of all-cause mortality, including specifically cardiovascular or cerebrovascular mortality.

“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. In other words, the more you follow the Mediterranean diet, the greater the gain in terms of mortality risk reduction,” explained Licia Iacoviello, head of the Laboratory of Molecular and Nutritional Epidemiology at Neuromed Institute and Professor at the University of Insubria.

Although the research looked at nutrition as a whole, Bonaccio said they wanted to understand which foods in particular were the driving force behind the effect of the Mediterranean diet. A high consumption of monounsaturated fats, such as extra virgin olive oil and fish, and a moderate consumption of alcohol during meals, were found to offer greater health protection.

The proportion of elderly people in the world’s population is increasing and in a few years, people over 65 are expected to represent about a quarter of Europeans. Giovanni de Gaetano, Director of the department, explained that the research is therefore important in ensuring a long and high-quality life.

“We used to say that we must add life to years, not just years to 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,” he said.

The research was published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

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