Fighting frailty

Date: 8 February 2018

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” – that saying might be truer now than ever before since a recent study conducted by a team from University College London has uncovered a connection between following a Mediterranean-style diet with lower risk of frailty in older adults. While loading up on fruits and vegetables has always been considered healthy, the new study shows that there is a significant association with those who eat primarily plant-based diets rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains and reduced risk of frailty.

What is frailty?
The term “frail” has recently emerged as a concept to assess the overall health status of older people, with frailty involving deficit accumulation and depleted physiological reserve across multiple body systems. As a result, frail people are more likely to suffer from fractures, hospitalisation, disability, and dementia.
Moreoever, frailty increases with age, plaguing those who often already have multiple medical problems and disabilites, and lowers quality of life. As Europe’s older population grows, the problems stemming from frailty have become a pressing issue among healthcare providers and those it afflicts.

Nutrition is key
Nutrition plays a vital role in the development of frailty, and new research indicates that a healthy diet is associated with lower risk of becoming frail. A recent analysis of almost 6000 older individuals from France, Spain, Italy, and China has resulted in consistent evidence that those who follow a Mediterranean diet are 50 percent less likely to become frail compared to those who do not.
Research also shows that the benefits of adhering to a Mediterranean diet extends beyond preventing frailty. A healthy diet emphasising plant-based foods may help older people maintain muscle strength, weight, activity and energy levels, and thus, improve quality of life in multiple ways.

The next step
While research shows that adhering to a Mediterranean diet is associated with significantly lower risk of frailty in older people, future studies are needed to confirm just how stictly a Mediterranean diet must be followed to effectively reduce the risk of frailty.

Askew, K. (2018) Mediterranean diet may boost healthy ageing – studyFoodNavigator. 

Kojima, G. (2017) Frailty significantly increases the risk of fractures among middle-aged and older peopleEvidence Based Nursing 20(4), 119.

Kojima, G., Avgerinou, C., Iliffe, S. and Walters, K. (2018) Adherence to Mediterranean Diet Reduces Incident Frailty Risk: Systematic Review and Meta-AnalysisJournal of the American Geriatric Society.