The Mediterranean diet, known for being one of the healthiest diets in the world, has scored bonus points after a recent study found that it also aids in brain function and longevity by improving the microbiome in the gut, reported CNN.
The gut microbiome is important for many key processes in the body, including determining how well nutrients are absorbed, the functionality of the immune system, and energy and metabolism levels.
The study looked at the microbiome composition in the guts of 612 elderly people from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom. After analysis, 323 of the 65- to 79-year-old participants were put on a Mediterranean diet for a year. The other half were told to continue their normal dietary regimen.
The diet, which is rich in vegetables, fruits, olive oil, fish, nuts, and legumes while disfavoring red meat, sugar, and saturated fats, was shown to have beneficial effects in the microbiomes of those studied. Additional benefits included a slower loss of bacterial diversity and reduced production of typically harmful inflammatory markers, including the C-reactive protein and interleukin-17.
Beneficial bacteria, linked to memory and brain function, were increased as well, while signs of physical aging, such as frailty in walking speed and handgrip strength, were reduced.
The study discovered that nationality, age, weight, and race did not seem to factor into the results, despite typically influencing the makeup of the gut microbiome.
Researchers specifically looked at elderly participants because prior studies have shown that the types and amount of microbes found in the gut are reduced with age. Combined with the usual food often found in long-term residential homes for the elderly, it is often difficult for them to eat a well-balanced diet. The resulting lack of gut microbiome diversity can contribute to age-related inflammatory processes -- often precursors to various cancers and neurological disorders.
In addition to aiding in microbiome health, the Mediterranean diet has previously been shown to reduce the risk for a variety of diseases, including diabetes, dementia, breast cancer, depression, and high cholesterol. It has won first place in the U.S. News and World Report's "best diet" rankings for three years running and is considered relatively simple to follow.
Dietitian Rahaf Al Bochi commented on the Mediterranean diet.
"It's more than a diet, it's a lifestyle," he said. It also encourages eating with friends and family, socializing over meals, mindfully eating your favorite foods, as well as mindful movement and exercise."