Mediterranean Diet and Osteoporosis: Does It Help?


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The Mediterranean Diet, celebrated for its blend of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seafood, and nuts, has long been a shield against ailments like heart disease and diabetes. But new research suggests this approach to eating offers another perk: it could significantly reduce hip bone loss in just 12 months.

Let’s discuss the details of this exciting new study to uncover the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet for osteoporosis and bone health. But first, what is osteoporosis, and how can the right diet help?

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis, often referred to as the “silent disease,” is a condition where bones become weak and brittle, increasing the risk of fractures.

While some bone loss is a natural part of aging, osteoporosis occurs when the body loses bone density at an accelerated rate or fails to produce enough new bone. With this diminished bone density, even minor strains can result in fractures-especially in the spine, hip, and wrist. The elderly are particularly at risk.

Key contributors to osteoporosis include:

  • Genetics
  • Aging
  • Hormonal imbalances like reduced estrogen in women and testosterone in men
  • Insufficient calcium and vitamin D levels
  • Certain medications
  • Lifestyle factors like smoking and lack of exercise

Fortunately, dietary choices, such as the Mediterranean Diet-with its rich sources of calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids-may help you prevent or even manage this condition.

How the Mediterranean Diet can benefit bone health

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), a staple in the Mediterranean Diet, is not only rich in heart-healthy polyphenols but has been linked to preventing bone loss and hip fractures.

Beyond EVOO, the Mediterranean Diet is a treasure trove of calcium-rich foods-crucial for strong bones. Regularly consuming leafy greens, almonds, and calcium-packed dairy products like yogurt and cheese can significantly boost bone health and counter conditions like osteoporosis.

The diet’s emphasis on omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, also supports bone wellness. Research indicates omega-3s can enhance bone strength by boosting calcium absorption in bones, preventing bone decay. Omega-3s also fight inflammation, further protecting bones and joints.

While earlier findings have highlighted the diet’s preventative benefits, new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) suggests the Mediterranean Diet can also help those already diagnosed with osteoporosis.

New research on the Mediterranean Diet for osteoporosis

The UEA’s study spanned 12 months, with lumbar spine and femoral neck (the region linking the thigh bone’s shaft to its head at the hip) bone density of over 600 participants being measured at the start and conclusion.

While participants with normal bone density showed no significant changes, participants who followed the Mediterranean Diet experienced an increase in bone density, notably at the femoral neck. This area is a chief site of hip fractures in osteoporosis patients.

Professor Susan Fairweather-Tait from UEA’s Norwich Medical School emphasized the study’s importance, noting the femoral neck’s sensitivity to osteoporosis. “Bone takes a long time to form,” she says, “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.”

More research and a longer trial is needed  to solidify these findings and possibly discover impacts on other areas of the body. But the potential of the Mediterranean Diet to mitigate osteoporosis could be a game-changer, especially when juxtaposed with drug treatments with potentially negative side effects.

In the interim, the researchers advocate the Mediterranean Diet for anyone concerned about osteoporosis or other health conditions.

“A Mediterranean Diet is already proven to have other health benefits, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer,” says Professor Fairweather-Tait. “So there’s no downside to adopting such a diet, whether you have osteoporosis or not.”

How to use the Mediterranean Diet for osteoporosis

Based on the traditional eating habits of countries around the Mediterranean Sea, this diet prioritizes whole, natural foods. To harness the Mediterranean Diet’s benefits for bone health, consider these guidelines:

  • Load up on fruits & vegetables. Eat a variety of produce like apples, leafy greens, broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes to get essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  • Incorporate whole grains. Unrefined grains like barley, quinoa, and whole wheat bread keep the digestive system running smoothly and support gut health, as well as immunity.
  • Opt for healthy fats. Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean Diet, offering heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
  • Choose lean protein sources. The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes lean proteins like those found in fish, poultry, eggs, beans. Save red meat for special occasions.
  • Enjoy dairy in moderation. Choose low-fat dairy products like plain Greek yogurt and cheese in small amounts for extra calcium.
  • Use herbs and spices liberally. Instead of salt, Mediterranean cuisine gets most of its flavor from herbs and spices, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Add these to your meals liberally to enhance flavor and boost your antioxidant intake.
  • Enjoy red wine in moderation. This diet allows for moderate wine consumption, which may have cardiovascular benefits due to its polyphenol content.

If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis-or simply want to protect your bones and overall well-being-consider adopting the Mediterranean Diet. It’s a wholesome approach to eating that could have huge benefits for all aspects of your health.

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