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Mediterranean diet could cut bone loss in those with osteoporosis

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Sticking to a Mediterranean type diet could reduce hip bone loss among patients with osteoporosis within just 12 months, according to a new study involving UK researchers.

The study, published today, is the first long-term, pan-European clinical showcasing the impact of the so-called Mediterranean diet on bone health for older adults.

“The fact that we were able to see a marked difference between the groups even in just this one area is significant”

Susan Fairweather-Tait

The European Union-funded trial, led by the University of Bologna, was completed by 1,142 participants aged 65 to 79. They were recruited across five centres in the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and France.

Randomised into two groups, bone density was measured in those participants who followed a Mediterranean diet and a control group that did not.

Those who took part in the Mediterranean diet increased their intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, unrefined cereals, olive oil, fish and consumed only small quantities of dairy products and meat.

During the trial, the findings of which are published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, bone density was measured at the start of and after 12 months. Those in the control group continued to see the usual age-related decrease in bone density.

However, in contrast, those who followed the diet saw an equivalent increase in the femoral neck that connects the shaft of the thigh bone to its rounded head, which fits in the hip joint.

“There’s no downside to adopting such a diet, whether you have osteoporosis or not”

Amy Jennings

Study author Professor Susan Fairweather-Tait, from the University of East Anglia, said: “Bone takes a long time to form, so the 12-month trial, although one of the longest to date, was still a relatively short time frame to show an impact.

“So, the fact that we were able to see a marked difference between the groups even in just this one area is significant,” she said.

Professor Fairweather-Tait noted that the femoral neck was a “particularly sensitive area for osteoporosis”, as loss of bone there was often the cause of hip fracture.

The researchers are hoping for a longer, similar trial in patients with osteoporosis to confirm the findings across a larger group and see if other areas of the body could be impacted.

Dr Amy Jennings, also from the University of East Anglia, said: “With a longer trial, it’s possible we could have picked up changes in the volunteers with normal bone density.”

But she also highlighted that it was “quite challenging” to encourage participants to change their diet for a year, and a longer trial would have made recruitment more difficult and resulted in a higher drop-out.

In the meantime, the researchers suggested that those concerned about the condition should consider modifying their diet.

“A Mediterranean diet is already proven to have other health benefits, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer,” said Prof Fairweather-Tait. “So, there’s no downside to adopting such a diet, whether you have osteoporosis or not.”

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