A fresh-baked loaf of bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil, a snack of kalamata olives and an entree of fresh mussels - it sounds delicious, but could it protect your bones? A recent study says yes - that is, that a Mediterranean diet, high in olive oil, may have a protective effect on the bones, possibly preventing osteoporosis and allowing a higher quality of senior living.
The study, which will be published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found that individuals who consumed a Mediterranean diet enriched with olive oil for two years had increased concentrations of serum osteocalcin, a bone formation marker, indicating stronger bones.
Researchers set out to determine the effects of an olive-oil rich Mediterranean diet on bones after reviewing previous studies that show the incidence of osteoporosis is lower in the Mediterranean basin, where people largely consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, olives and olive oil. To see if this environmental factor did indeed make a significant difference on bone health, the researchers gathered 127 senior men assigned to three groups - one that ate a Mediterranean diet with mixed nuts, one that ate a Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil, and one that ate a low-fat diet.
After two years, they found that only the subjects who ate the Mediterranean diet with olive oil showed significant increases in their total osteocalcin levels and other bone formation markers.
"The intake of olive oil has been related to the prevention of osteoporosis in experimental and in vitro models," said lead study author Dr. José Manuel Fernández-Real, of Hospital Dr. Josep Trueta in Girona, Spain. "This is the first randomized study which demonstrates that olive oil preserves bone, at least as inferred by circulating bone markers, in humans."
Although this is the first study to show olive oil's particular impact on bone health, it's not the first time the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet have been touted. According to U.S. News and World Report, the theory behind the diet is that people Mediterranean countries like France, Italy and Greece live longer and suffer less from cancer and cardiovascular issues than Americans.
The characteristics of the diet include whole grains in minimally processed forms, vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, legumes and seeds, fish and shellfish. Dairy, lean meat and eggs are consumed, but in moderation. Small serving sizes and an active lifestyle have also been linked to the good health of Mediterranean people.