Vitality

Women On Mediterranean Diet May Lower Bone Fracture Risk, But There's More To It Than That

Mediterranean diet
A bowl of hummus is served with olive oil, falafel balls and sprinkled with chopped parsley alongside fresh-baked pita bread, olives, a fresh onion, red chili paste and chili and lemon juice February 21, 2006 in a restaurant in Tel Aviv. David Silverman/Getty Images

Are there anything Mediterranean dietary patterns can’t do for your health? The latest research from JAMA Internal Medicine suggests the heart-healthy diet may lower risk for hip fracture.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, after the age of 35, a person’s bones start to weaken, breaking down more than they build up. At a certain point this loss becomes osteoporosis, and in postmenopausal women, the drop in estrogen is one of the strongest risk factors for this condition. Prior research suggests some nutrients, like protein, calcium, and unsaturated fat, can prevent osteoporosis-related fractures, but eating more of them is just part of the picture, the researchers wrote. Something like protein can be part of an unhealthy diet, too.

They noticed that fracture rates were lower in Mediterranean countries, where people eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and unsaturated fats —   the good kind of fat — compared to those in northern European countries. So the researchers decided to see just how much this particular diet can affect bone health.

The team analyzed the eating habits of 90,014 generally healthy, postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 living across the United States. They scored participants’ answers in order to see how well they adhered to a Mediterranean diet and whether they avoided foods not commonly consumed on the diet, including red and processed meat and alcohol.

After that, researchers looked to see how women’s answers adhered to other popular diets, including the Healthy Eating Index, the Alternate Healthy Eating Index, the ever-popular DASH diet, and the low-fat diet used in the Women’s Health Initiative study. Fast forward 16 years and women who adhered more to the Mediterranean diet had a 0.29 percent lower risk for hip fracture. There was a smaller risk among those who followed the Healthy Eating Index and DASH diets, but the results were not significant, researchers wrote.

What this means: There may be an association between the Mediterranean diet and fewer fractures, but since women on other quality diets show some benefit, it could just be that avoiding a poor-quality diet in general does the trick. The diets included in the study all emphasize eating more fruits and vegetables, fish, and healthy fats from foods like nuts and olive oil, on top of avoiding red and processed meat and alcohol. Mediterranean-approved foods tend to be rich sources of calcium, especially green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, and sardines. Because milk is also rich in the mineral it’s typically considered the best way to build strong bones. Rest assured, it’s not.

It’s important to note, too, that the women who adhered most to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to be older and white, physically active, and to have less than one chronic medical condition and a lower body mass index. This suggests a woman’s bones improve from a healthy diet and lifestyle.

In fact, when looking at fracture rates across the globe, researchers speculate that lifestyle differences, which include what a person eats on a daily basis, factor into these regional and local differences.  

"Our results provide assurance that widely recommended eating patterns do not increase the risk of fractures," lead study author Dr. Bernhard Haring of the University of Wurzburg in Germany, told CNN. "This being said, the average woman should follow a healthy lifestyle which includes adopting a healthy dietary pattern and being physically active."

Source: Haring B et al. Dietary Patterns and Fractures in Postmenopausal Women. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2016.

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