A study from Europe, funded by the European Union and led by Italy’s University of Bologna, found that following the Mediterranean diet for a year reduced bone loss among participants with osteoporosis. In addition, the study subjects increased density in the femoral neck, the part of the thigh bone that connects to the hip joint. Bone loss in the femoral neck is often the cause of hip fractures.
Researchers recruited 1,294 men and women between the ages of 65 and 79, then randomized them to either follow the Mediterranean diet or remain on their usual diets (after they received information about healthy eating). Those on the Mediterranean diet took a vitamin D3 supplement during the study and increased their intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, unrefined cereals, olive oil and fish. They also ate only small amounts of dairy products and meat; and were provided with olive oil and whole meal pasta and allowed to consume alcohol moderately.
At the outset and after one year, the researchers measured bone density in all the participants. In addition to the increased bone density seen among those with osteoporosis who followed the Mediterranean diet, results showed continued age-related declines in bone density in the control group. The Mediterranean diet had no discernible impact on participants whose bone density was normal.
Researcher Amy Jennings of the UK’s University of East Anglia wrote that with a longer trial the team might have picked up noteworthy changes in the volunteers with normal bone density. But she said it was quite challenging to get them to stick with a new diet for a year; a longer trial would have made recruitment more difficult and resulted in more drop outs. Even so, the study team would like to conduct a longer trial in patients with osteoporosis to confirm the findings and see if other areas of the body are affected. The researchers see no downside to adopting the Mediterranean diet by people concerned about osteoporosis, especially since it is known to have so many other health benefits including lower risks of cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
Incidentally, a small study from Brazil also found that following a Mediterranean diet can benefit bones. Only 103 women (average age 55) took part; all had gone through menopause about five years earlier, and none were on hormone replacement therapy. The women whose eating habits most closely resembled those of people in Mediterranean countries had better muscle mass and greater bone density in the spine. Study leader, Thais Rasia Silva, Ph.D., suggested that postmenopausal women with low bone density ask their doctors if they should try following the Mediterranean diet.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Susan J. Fairweather-Tait et al, “Mediterranean-like dietary pattern with vitamin D3 (10ug/day) supplements reduced rate of bone loss in older Europeans with osteoporosis at baseline: results of a one year randomised controlled trial.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 11, 2018 doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqy122