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Frailty is a syndrome that commonly manifests in older adults. It carries an increased risk for poor health outcomes including falls, disability, hospitalization, and death. A key driver in the development of frailty is inflammation, which often accompanies diet-induced changes in the gut microbiota. Findings from a recent study suggest that eating a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, and fiber, and low in saturated fat and red meat, alters the gut microbiome in older adults to reduce the risk of frailty.

The intervention study involved more than 600 older, non-, pre-frail, or frail older adults living throughout Europe. Roughly half of the participants followed a Mediterranean diet for one year, while the other half, which served as the control group, ate their regular diets. Before and after the one-year intervention, the authors of the study profiled the microbial makeup of the participants' gut microbiome. Whereas the microbiome of the participants from the northern European countries shared many similarities, the participants from Italy had a distinct microbiome.

At the end of the study, the participants who adhered to the Mediterranean diet showed reductions in biomarkers associated with inflammation (such as C-reactive protein and interleukin 17) and improvements in frailty-associated measures (such as handgrip strength, gait speed time, and cognitive function). The authors of the study observed notable changes in the participants' gut microbiomes, which were associated with higher numbers of bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids – byproducts of dietary fiber metabolism that reduce gut inflammation.

These findings suggest that dietary interventions that promote adherence to a Mediterranean diet may be beneficial in reducing the risk of developing frailty among older adults due to changes in gut microbiota and reduced inflammation.

Interestingly, some of the benefits observed among the participants in this study may be related to their increased intake of essential vitamins and minerals. Without these nutrients, the body has to compensate for the shortages – a concept known as “triaging.” Long-term compensation contributes to aging. Watch this clip in which Dr. Bruce Ames explains this phenomenon in what he calls his triage theory.

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