UK Biobank reveals: Mediterranean diet might be the key to combating 32 chronic diseases!

A recent Nature Communications study used the UK Biobank to understand the association between a healthy dietary pattern and 48 individual chronic diseases among community-dwelling adults.

Study: Healthy dietary patterns and the risk of individual chronic diseases in community-dwelling adults. Image Credit: udra11/Shutterstock.comStudy: Healthy dietary patterns and the risk of individual chronic diseases in community-dwelling adults. Image Credit: udra11/Shutterstock.com

Background

Aging is a key risk factor in the development of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which were responsible for a significant rise in the number of deaths caused between 2007 and 2017. It is, therefore, crucial to identify effective prevention strategies to promote healthy aging.

Furthermore, investigating modifiable factors for non-age-related chronic conditions, such as dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome, should also be prioritized because they are widespread and can put significant pressure on healthcare systems. 

Research has shown that a healthy lifestyle could lower the risk of chronic diseases and mortality. In this regard, diet is paramount and could be targeted to delay or prevent these chronic conditions.

Adherence to certain dietary patterns, such as the Healthy Eating Index (AHEI-2010), Healthful Plant-based Diet Index (HPDI), and the Mediterranean diet score (AMED), could lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), certain types of cancers, and diabetes.

However, the relationship between dietary patterns and other chronic conditions, such as endocrine disorders, eczema, ophthalmic conditions, and chronic kidney disease (CKD), remains unclear.

About the study

The present study used the UK Biobank to study the relationship between four commonly used dietary scores and the risk of several chronic conditions. Additionally, it explored which dietary pattern could predict chronic diseases better.

While selecting the sample, individuals with no data on diet and those with energy intake in the top or bottom deciles were excluded. A total of 121,513 participants were included, of which 55.9% were females. The ages ranged between 30 and 75 years, with a mean age of 59.

Older, higher educated non-smokers were more likely to have higher dietary scores. Females were more likely to have higher AMED or AHEI-2010 scores, whereas males were more likely to have a higher anti-empirical Dietary Inflammatory Index (AEDII) score.

Key findings

A higher AMED score was observed to correlate with a lower risk of 32 chronic diseases. For the AHEI-2010 scale, a higher score was associated with a lower risk of 29 chronic diseases.

The correlation direction was similar for the HPDI score, but a higher value of the HPDI was associated with a lower risk in only 23 chronic conditions. These conditions spanned cardiometabolic disease (CMD), cancers, digestive disorders, and psychological/neurological disorders. There were no positive correlations for these three scores.

The AEDII is associated positively with the risk of two chronic conditions: psychoactive substance abuse and alcohol use disorder.

It is also associated negatively with 14 other chronic diseases. AMED showed the lowest risk with the most chronic conditions, and the benefits of AMED were derived from high consumption of healthy foods, such as fish, legumes, nuts, vegetables, and fruits. 

Overall, the findings suggested that the risk of developing CMDs could be minimized by following dietary patterns such as AHEI, HPDI, and AMED. A low risk correlated with high AHEI, HPDI, and AMED dietary scores for cancers.

This could be driven by low alcohol and high fish consumption, as in the case of AMED. For the risk of dementia and Parkinson’s disease, only the AMED score varied inversely with it, and this could be driven by the anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants found in the Mediterranean diet.

High AEDII and HPDI scores were inversely associated with the risk of irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diverticular disease, dyspepsia, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Conclusions

The current study has some limitations, including measurement errors owing to the UK Biobank's self-reported nature and the analysis's lack of causality. Furthermore, there could be detection biases in the UK Biobank, e.g., populations may differ with regard to cancer detection owing to differences in the frequency of screening. 

The adjustment for confounders, such as genetic risk score (GRS) and BMI, was similar for all health conditions. This assumption may not be true as the confounders could vary by disease.

Additionally, the potential reverse causality between diet and psychological diseases could not be ruled out. Stressed or anxious individuals could well adopt unhealthy diets. Lastly, since most of the participants were Caucasians, the findings of this study may not be generalizable to other populations. 

Overall, the risks of a number of chronic diseases can be reduced by adhering to healthy diets, such as the AMED. The findings suggest that a healthy diet can reduce the risk or prevent the development of chronic diseases.

Journal reference:
Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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