Diets rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil can positively affect gut bacteria. This is due to the increase in the diversity of bacteria, which slows the advance of physical frailty and cognitive deterioration in older populations.
In a new five-country study published in the journal Gut, researchers looked at habitable diets among older people, particularly those receiving long-term residential care. These are usually restrictive diets that reduce the diversity of intestinal bacteria, which accelerates the onset of fragility.
Therefore, the research team wanted to see if a Mediterranean diet could maintain the microbiome in the digestive tract of older people and promote the retention or even proliferation of bacteria associated with healthy aging.
The researchers conducted a study that investigated whether a year on the Mediterranean diet could alter the gut microbiota and reduce frailty.
The study authors analyzed the gut microbiome of 612 people ages 65 to 79, before and after 12 months. The first group of 289 participants ate their usual diet, while 323 participants consumed a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, olive oil and fish and low in red meat and saturated fat.
Participants consisted of 28 who were frail, 151 were on the verge of frailty, and 433 were not found frail at the beginning of the study. They lived in five different countries: France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom.
The researchers found that eating a Mediterranean diet was associated with beneficial changes in the gut microbiome.
Eating a Mediterranean diet for a year increases the type of gut bacteria associated with healthy aging, while reducing those associated with harmful inflammation in older people.
The diet helps slow the loss of bacterial diversity while increasing bacteria previously associated with several indicators of reduced frailty, such as walking speed, hand grip strength, memory, and reduced inflammation.
"The interaction of diet, microbiome, and host health is a complex phenomenon influenced by several factors," the study noted.
Under the microscope
Upon closer examination, the research revealed that changes in the microbiome were associated with an increase in bacteria that produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids. In addition, the type of bacteria involved in the production of certain bile acids decreased. Such overproduction can increase the risk of bowel cancer, insulin resistance, fatty liver, and cell damage.
An increase in dietary fiber and vitamins and minerals, especially C, B6, B9, copper, potassium, iron, manganese and magnesium, were largely behind the changes in the microbiome.
The findings were independent of the person's age or body mass index, both of which affect the microbiome.
Despite the participant's country of origin, the response to the Mediterranean diet after 12 months was similar and consistent, noting the authors:
“Notably, despite country-specific microbiome composition differences at baseline and different dietary adhesions, the diet-sensitive taxa identified throughout the cohort were largely shared among different nationalities, that is, their association with the diet was not specific to any country”.
The authors also note that some of the implications are inferred rather than directly measured.
“While the results of this study shed light on some of the rules of this tripartite interaction, various factors such as age, body mass index, disease status and initial dietary patterns may play a key role in determining the extent of success of these interactions, "the authors explained, adding that the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are not limited to elderly subjects
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