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London - Swapping to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil could help protect your bones in later life, claim researchers.
Just two years of eating like the Spanish and Italians who use olive oil rather than less healthy fats may preserve or even build bone in older people, says a new study.
The Mediterranean diet is regarded as the classic eating habits of populations from countries in southern Europe, even though fewer inhabitants follow it today.
It has been thought to improve heart health and stave off cancer because it is high in fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and “healthy” fats such as those in olive oil, while low in red meat and dairy products.
But a new study shows further benefits to bones as people eating more olive oil had higher levels of the hormone osteocalcin in their blood – a marker linked to better bone strength.
Previous studies have shown that Mediterranean countries have lower rates of osteoporosis compared with northern European nations, which could be due to different dietary factors.
Osteoporosis is often termed the “silent disease” as there are no symptoms prior to a fracture. However, once a person has broken a bone, their risk of breaking another bone – a fragility fracture - increases dramatically.
Around 300,000 fragility fractures occur every year in the UK, and hip fractures lead to 1150 deaths every month.
In the study, 127 people aged 55 to 80 regarded as high risk heart patients took part in the Prevencion con Dieta Mediterranea (PREDIMED) study.
They had type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or other cardiovascular risk factors, says a report in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
They were randomly assigned to three different diets: Mediterranean diet with mixed nuts, Mediterranean diet with at least 50ml of virgin olive oil a day, and a low-fat diet.
People on the olive oil diet were told to use it for cooking and dressing salads, eat more fruit and vegetables, eat less red meat, avoid butter, cream, fast food, cakes, and, if they were alcohol drinkers, to consume moderate amounts of red wine.
The results after two years showed those on the Mediterranean diet with olive oil had a significant increase in concentrations of osteocalcin and other bone formation markers, and no other diet had the same effect.
Dr Jose Manuel Fernandez-Real, of Hospital Dr Josep Trueta in Girona, Spain, said the consumption of olive oil has been already been linked to prevention of osteoporosis in experimental research, but the new study looked at direct effects in people.
He said “This is the first randomised study which demonstrates that olive oil preserves bone, at least as inferred by circulating bone markers, in humans.
“It's important to note that circulating osteocalcin was associated with preserved insulin secretion in subjects taking olive oil.
“Osteocalcin has also been described to increase insulin secretion in experimental models.”
Olive oil contains omega-6 fats, a form of “healthy” polyunsaturates which blocks the body's response to inflammation in chronic conditions such as heart disease and arthritis.
It also reduces blood pressure and improves the ratio of good to bad blood fats.
Dieticians say the Mediterranean diet also appears to improve vascular function, the flexibility of cells lining the walls of blood vessels, particularly in the heart and circulatory system.
The diet is known to fight inflammation and repair oxygen-related cell damage.
Previous research has found strict adherence to a Mediterranean diet could help stave off memory loss and Alzheimer's. - Daily Mail