Mediterranean Diet Helps Avoid Fractures, a Little

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Mediterranean Diet

Evidence keeps mounting about the benefits of the food traditionally eaten in the Mediterranean region. The latest research, just published in JAMA Internal Medicine, shows that a Mediterranean diet helps seniors, particularly post-menopausal women, maintain strength in their bones and may help a little to avoid fractures. That is in addition to the well-known benefits a diet rich in vegetables, fish, whole grains, olive oil, legumes, nuts and other components typically used in the region offer for heart health and keeping pounds off.

Looking at data from the U.S. Women’s Health Initiative study, researchers found that women who followed a Mediterranean-style diet were slightly less likely to break a hip than women who follow other diets. The margin of difference was only three tenths of one percent.

The finding goes against the common perception that calcium and vitamin D are critical for bone health. However, the Mediterranean diet does not use much dairy (except trendy Greek yogurts), the traditional recommended source for calcium. It does, however, include veggies with calcium like broccoli and kale as well as things like figs and almonds.

For the study, a research team lead by Dr. Bernard Haring from Germany’s University of Würzburg examined data gathered on over 90,000 females between the ages of 50 and 79 when they began participating in the Women’s Health Initiative in the 1990s. They studied information gathers when they started about their eating patterns. The researchers compared their eating habits to various diets, including four diets that are “healthy”: a Mediterranean-style diet, the Healthy Eating Index 2010, the Alternative Health Eating Index 2010 and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH).

Over the next 16 years, the women participating in the study suffered almost 29,000 fractures. That included 2,121 hip fractures. So, the research team sought to discern what may have differed between those who did fracture a hip and those who did not, referring back to the dietary information.

Women who were identified as following a Mediterranean-type of diet were 0.29 percent less likely to have fractures a hip, according to the JAMA Internal Medicine article. No other diet showed a discernible difference in results and the Mediterranean diet followers had a comparable amount of other types of fractures.

A diet rich in Mediterranean-type foods includes many foods with healthier fats and plant matter that beneficial for bone health, The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adopting a Mediterranean diet to promote heart health, prevent cancer and other diseases, and even a reduced likelihood of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Well-known Harvard nutrition researcher Dr. Walter Willett, from the university’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, noted in an accompanying article in JAMA Internal Medicine that the findings should not be overly emphasized. He noted that a Mediterranean diet’s followers typically are more physically active than those who eat a less healthy diet, which also helps protect from hip fractures by promoting flexibility and bone strength.

Willett did note that the advantages of a Mediterranean-type diet are not little for preventing heart disease, obesity, diabetes, colorectal and other cancers, “whether the findings for fracture risk represent causation or confounding.” He added that there is “strong evidence based on many long-term cohort studies and controlled feeding studies of intermediate risk factors provides support for a Mediterranean-type diet.”

Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss

JAMA Internal Medicine: Dietary Patterns and Fractures in Postmenopausal Women
JAMA Internal Medicine: Mediterranean Diet and Fracture Risk
Reuters: Mediterranean diet tied to lower hip fracture risk
Live Science: Women Could Lower Fracture Risk with Mediterranean Diet

Photo courtesy of Marcus Guimarães’ Flickr page – Creative Commons license