Consuming a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, unrefined cereals, olive oil, and fish may help reduce bone loss within just 12 months, according to new research.

Results from a long-term, pan-European clinical trial looking at the impact of a Mediterranean diet on bone health in older adults were published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study, led by the University of Bologna, included 1142 participants recruited across five centers in Italy, the UK, the Netherlands, Poland, and France. They all were randomized into two groups—one that followed a Mediterranean diet, and a control group that did not, according to a media release from University of East Anglica.

Those following the Mediterranean diet increased their intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, unrefined cereals, olive oil, and fish, consumed small quantities of dairy products and meat, and had a moderate alcohol intake.

People in the intervention group were provided with foods such as olive oil and wholemeal pasta, to encourage them to stick to the diet, and were also given a small vitamin D supplement, to even out the effects of different levels of sunlight on vitamin D status between the participating countries.

People in the control group continued to see the usual age-related decrease in bone density, but those following the diet saw an equivalent increase in bone density in one part of the body—the femoral neck. This is the area which connects the shaft of the thigh bone to its rounded head, which fits in the hip joint, the release explains.

“This is a particularly sensitive area for osteoporosis as loss of bone in the femoral neck is often the cause of hip fracture, which is common in elderly people with osteoporosis,” says UK study lead Prof Susan Fairweather-Tait, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, in the release.

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

At the start and end of the trial, blood samples were taken to check for circulating biomarkers. Bone density was measured in more than 600 participants across both groups at the lumbar spine and femoral neck. Of these participants, just under 10% were found to have osteoporosis at the start of the study, the release continues.

“Although this is a small number it is sufficient for the changes in femoral neck bone density between the two groups to be statistically significant,” notes Dr Amy Jennings, a co-researcher from the University of East Anglia, in the release.

“Those with osteoporosis are losing bone at a much faster rate than others, so you are more likely to pick up changes in these volunteers than those losing bone more slowly, as everyone does with age.

“With a longer trial, it’s possible we could have picked up changes in the volunteers with normal bone density. However, we already found it quite challenging to encourage our volunteers to change their diet for a year, and a longer trial would have made recruitment more difficult and resulted in a higher drop-out,” she adds.

The researchers would now like to see a similar, or ideally longer, trial in patients with osteoporosis, to confirm the findings across a larger group and see if the impact can be seen in other areas of the body, the release concludes.

[Source(s): University of East Anglia, EurekAlert]