Middle-aged women following a healthy Mediterranean-type diet — with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish, moderate amounts of alcohol, and little red meat — have much greater odds of healthy aging later on, a new study reports.
“In this study, women with healthier dietary patterns at midlife were 40% more likely to survive to age 70 or over free of major chronic diseases and with no impairment in physical function, cognition or mental health,” said lead study author, Cécilia Samieri, PhD, Institut pour la Santé Publique et le Developpement, Université Bordeaux, France.
This new study adds to growing research on the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet recently reported. Various studies have shown that this diet may contribute to reduced fasting glucose concentrations and lipid levels in those at risk for diabetes, may lower the risk for cardiovascular events and stroke, and improve cognition.
The new study was published in the November 5 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.
The analysis included 10,670 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study, which began in 1976 when female nurses aged 30 to 55 years completed a mail-in survey. Since then, study participants have been closely followed on a regular basis.
In 1980, participants completed a food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ) that asked how often on average they consumed standard portions of various foods. This questionnaire was repeated in 1984 and 1986 and then every 4 years.
To assess dietary quality at midlife, researchers averaged information from the 1984 and 1986 FFQs. They calculated scores on 2 diet indexes.
In 1992, 1996, and 2000, participants completed the Medical Outcomes Short-Form 36 Health Survey, a questionnaire that evaluates 8 health concepts, including mental health and physical functioning. Scores from the Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status, an adaptation of the Mini-Mental State Examination, were used to evaluate cognitive health. From 1995 to 2001, a cognitive study was administered to participants aged 70 years or older.
Investigators separated “healthy” from “usual” aging on the basis of 4 health domains.
Overall, 11.0% of the participants were considered healthy (and so were free of chronic diseases, such as cancers, myocardial infarction, and diabetes, and with no limitation in cognitive function, mental health, and physical function), and the remaining participants were considered usual agers.
Several health domains were typically impaired among the “usual” agers, said Dr. Samieri. “For example, 33% had both chronic diseases and limitations in cognitive, physical, or mental health; 64% had only limitations in cognitive, physical, or mental health; and 3.4% had only 1 or more chronic diseases.”
The analysis revealed that greater adherence at midlife to the mediterranean diet was strongly associated with greater odds of healthy ageing.