The Mediterranean diet, which includes balanced consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, grains, olive oil, seafood and wine in moderate amounts while limiting dairy products and meats, has been touted for its healthy results for decades. The diet has been associated with myriad benefits, including decreased risks of heart disease, cancer, depression and neurological diseases, as well as a lower rates of hospitalization and a longer lifespan. According to a new study by a team of European researchers, the diet may also be linked with a healthier aging process and more varied gut microbiota.
The researchers, a team of microbiologists from universities in Ireland, France, the U.K., Poland, Italy and the Netherlands, published their work online in the journal of the British Society of Gastroenterology, Gut. The team focused on the gastroenterological health of elderly individuals by studying 612 subjects from their respective nations whose ages ranged from 65 to 79. They applied the Frailty Index for Elders (FIFE), a system that scores older patients based on multiple risk factors, to each participant, and recorded the genetic material of the gut microbiota of the participants at the beginning of the trial and a year later.
Using a randomized process, the team assigned 323 of the participants to a group adhering to the Mediterranean diet for a year while 289 participants remained in a control group without any alteration to their eating habits.
After following the groups for a year and gathering data, the researchers found that the gut microbiomes of the Mediterranean diet subjects were more diverse than those of the control group , regardless of sex, body mass index or age. This group also had bolstered cognitive performance scores, decreased inflammation and a lower risk of frailty.
Want to learn more about how wine can be part of a healthy lifestyle? Sign up for Wine Spectator's free Wine & Healthy Living e-mail newsletter and get the latest health news, feel-good recipes, wellness tips and more delivered straight to your inbox every other week!
The researchers also found that the difference in the gut microbiome was linked to a gain in the production of fatty acids, which are believed responsible for maintaining the balance of gut microbiota and helping the body recover from some illnesses. It was also linked to a lower amount of secondary bile acids, p-cresols, ethanol and carbon dioxide in the gut, all of which can increase risk of certain diseases.
An important finding for researchers was that at the beginning of the study the participants' gut microbiomes varied depending on their nationality. But by the end of the study, there was a uniformity in the microbiomes of the individuals in the Mediterranean diet, regardless of their country of origin.
The researchers are hopeful that the study will give doctors a basis for recommending dietary changes as a proven therapeutic treatment for reducing frailty and improving overall gut health for seniors.