Women Could Lower Fracture Risk with Mediterranean Diet

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Older women who eat a diet full of produce, fish and nuts, may have a slightly lower risk of hip fractures, a new study finds.

The researchers found that the risk of hip fracture among the women in the study who adhered most closely to this kind of diet, sometimes called the Mediterranean diet, was very slightly reduced.

The finding is important mainly because it shows that following the Mediterranean diet and other related diets, which do not emphasize the intake of dairy foods,is not linked with a higher risk of hip fractures, said Dr. Bernhard Haring, who led the study and is a physician at the University of Würzburg in Germany.

"There is strong evidence that an overall healthy dietary pattern, and specifically a Mediterranean-type diet, provides important health benefits," such as preventing cardiovascular disease, Haring told Live Science in an email. "It was important to show that a Mediterranean diet as well as other dietary patterns do not increase the rate of hip fractures," despite having less emphasis on consuming dairy foods, he said.

In the study, Haring and his colleagues looked at data from the Women's Health Initiative study, a large, long-running study in the U.S. aimed at examining the health problems of postmenopausal women. The new study included data from about 90,000 women, whose average age was 64 at the study's start.The researchers looked at the women's reported diets, and whether they had a hip fracture over a 16-year period.

By the end of the study period, 2,121 women had experienced hip fractures, the researchers found.

The researchers found that the risk of hip fractures among those women who adhered most closely to the Mediterranean diet was 0.29 percent lower compared with women who did not adhere to this diet too closely or did not adhere to it at all. [5 Diets That Fight Diseases]

However, when the researchers looked beyond hip fractures, at the women's risk of having fractures of any kind, they did not find that the risk was lower among the women who followed the Mediterranean diet.

The researchers looked at the women's entire diet patterns, rather than their intake of individual nutrients, and so it is not clear why exactly adhering to this type of diet seemed to slightly lower the women's risk of hip fractures, Haring said.

However, the Mediterranean diet is rich in healthy fats and plant proteins, both of which have shown benefits for bone health, the researchers noted in their study, published today (March 28) in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

"The average woman should follow a healthy lifestyle which includes adopting a healthy dietary pattern, e.g. a Mediterranean dietary pattern, and being physically active," Haring said.

"Unfortunately, the U.S. as well as other health care systems largely ignore nutrition and lifestyle measures in favor of pharmacology," he said. Increasing adherence to diet recommendations and guidelines, such as the U.S. government's 2015-2020Dietary Guidelines for Americans, would have great public health effects, such as reducing health care costs and improving the individual's overall well-being.

Dr. Walter Willett, of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, who was not involved in the research, said that it is possible that the women in the study who more closely followed Mediterranean diet were also more likely to exercise over the course of the study, which might also explain the results.  

Previous research has shown that greater levels of physical activity are linked to a lower risk of hip fracture, Willett wrote in an editorial about the new study, also published today in the same journal. [10 New Ways to Eat Well]

The new findings should therefore be interpreted cautiously, Willett wrote.

However, the findings do show that following the widely recommended eating advice does not increase the risk of fractures, "even though some of these patterns do not emphasize the intake of dairy foods," he wrote.

Live Science Health Editor Karen Rowan contributed reporting to this story. 

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Staff Writer