Eating a Mediterranean diet has been linked with healthier gut bacteria and in turn with better markers for ageing. Led by researchers at University College Cork, Ireland, a team of researchers from across Europe, analysed the gut microbiome of 612 people aged between 65 and 79 in five countries, with stool samples at the beginning and end of the 12-month diet period to establish whether being placed on an exclusively Mediterranean diet had any positive effects and the results were unanimous.
“The composition of our gut is partly determined by our genes but can also be influenced by lifestyle factors…Interest in, and knowledge about, the microbiota has recently exploded as we now recognise just how essential they are to our health, affecting everything from mood to the development of serious disease,” researchers said.
Half of the participants were asked to continue with their regular diets, while the other half ate a diet carefully constructed for them of exclusively typically Mediterranean dishes. At the end of the study, it was found that sticking to the Mediterranean diet was linked with beneficial changes to the gut microbiome and with stemming the loss of bacterial diversity.
“Those who adhered to the diet the most experienced the greatest gain in desirable bacteria, while losing the most ‘bad’ bacteria. In other words, their microbiome was re-programmed,” explains the paper published in the journal Gut.
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A conclusive decline into frailty
But the results went further. Not only did they indicate that the gut biome was healthier, but also that those on the diet had a far reduced decline into frailty.
The researchers observed an increase in the types of bacteria previously associated with indicators of reduced frailty, such as walking speed and handgrip strength, a factor which bore out when testing the subjects whose biomes had flourished.
In comparison, the group who didn’t change their usual diet had a steeper decline into frailty.
Those with healthier biomes also saw an improvement in cognitive functioning, a reduction of potentially harmful inflammatory chemicals, namely C-reactive protein and interleukin-17 and a decrease in bacteria involved in producing some bile acids, which, when overproduced, are linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer, insulin resistance, fatty liver and cell damage.
The traditional Mediterranean diet includes lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, and wholegrains. It is also abundant in healthy fats like olive oil. It contains moderate amounts of fish, white meat and some dairy, and very little sugar and red meat.