The buzzworthy Mediterranean diet is known for its myriad health benefits — including lowering the risk of heart disease, cognitive diseases, cancer, and inflammation — but a new study suggests that the diet may also be helpful in improving bone and muscle mass in postmenopausal women. This is especially important because during and after menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels sink, leading to an increased risk of osteoporosis, fractures, bone thinning, and other related issues.
The study was conducted by a team in Brazil led by Thais Rasia Silva, Ph.D., a postdoctoral student at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande. Researchers observed 103 Brazilian women who were of an average age of 55, and who had been approximately 5.5 years postmenopausal. The subjects all completed a questionnaire about their diets within the past month and underwent bone scans throughout the observation to measure total body fat, appendicular lean mass, and bone mineral density. According to Silva, those women who adhered more strictly to the Mediterranean diet guidelines showed more muscle mass and notably higher levels of bone mineral density at the lumbar spine where measurements were taken.
The Mediterranean diet, which hails from the traditional culinary lifestyles of the Italians, French, Greeks and Spaniards, involves low intake of saturated fats, red meats, and dairy foods. Instead, the diet focuses on a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, fish, grains, olive oil, and nuts/seeds, along with some moderate but regular indulgence in red wine.
Now before you pour yourself that glass of cabernet with dinner tonight, it’s important to note that while Silva and her team’s research seems promising, there are not many studies conducted on the effects of diet on the body composition of postmenopausal women. This study only examined a fairly small population of 103 Brazilian women who were in otherwise good health, and more research will need to be conducted before we can make any definitive claims about how bone health and muscle mass are affected by diet across the board for women after menopause.
Still, it's an exciting development for older women's health — and yet another reason why the Mediterranean diet may be worth a try. (As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new eating plan!)