Healthy diet linked to less age related disabilities

March 9, 2005 in Nutrition Topics in the News

Healthy diet linked to less age related disabilities

Researchers may have come up with another reason to eat well. A new study suggests diets rich in fruits, vegetables and dairy foods can prevent the disabilities that often come with age.

The study, which followed 9,404 middle-aged Americans for nine years, found that a healthy diet seemed particularly beneficial among African-American women, who are generally at greater risk than white women of developing physical limitations as they age.

Researchers found that African American women who ate the most fruits and vegetables on a daily basis were about one-third to one-half less likely than those with the lowest intakes to develop problems with activities such as walking, climbing stairs and doing household chores. High intakes of dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt showed an even stronger protective effect.

Similar benefits were found among white women -- at least when it came to fruit and vegetable intake -- though the protective effect was not as great.

Diet is well known to be a factor in a host of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. But less is known about the role of diet in age-related disability. It is known that obesity, lack of physical exercise, alcohol consumption and smoking are modifiable factors for disability, however little remains known about the role of diet.

The study included 9,404 African-American and white men and women between the ages of 45 and 64 at the outset. At study entry, they completed diet questionnaires that asked how often they ate various foods. After roughly nine years, 67 percent of the African American women had developed problems with walking, climbing steps, kneeling or other types of lower-limb movement. White men were the least likely to have such problems, with 37 percent reporting lower-limb limitations. African American women also had the highest rates of other types of disabilities, such as difficulty with household chores or basic needs like getting around the house or out of bed.

However, African American women with the highest level of fruits, vegetables and dairy products in their diets were much less likely than their peers to develop any disability.

According to researchers, a healthy diet may ward off physical limitations in a number of ways. For instance, calcium and vitamin D in dairy foods may prevent problems associated with osteoporosis and declines in muscle strength. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, nutrients that counter the potentially cell-damaging effects of oxygen free radicals.

Exactly why a healthy diet was more protective in African American women than in white women is unclear. Researchers note the findings could reflect differences in the types of produce or dairy products that African American and white women eat. For example, African Americans have been shown eat more dark green vegetables and get more vitamin A and C than white Americans do.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.