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Study Shows that Consumption of a Pro-Inflammatory Diet is Associated with Increased Odds of Frailty Onset in Middle-Aged and Older Adults

Regularly Eating Nutrients Such as Dietary Fiber and Dietary Antioxidants May Prevent Older Adults from Becoming Frail

BOSTON – Results of a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicate that regularly consuming a diet of pro-inflammatory foods (e.g., those rich in simple carbohydrates or in saturated fats) is associated with increased likelihood of developing frailty in middle-aged and older adults. Frailty affects between 10-15 percent of community-living older adults – making it a significant public health issue.

Courtney L. Millar, Ph.D., a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, and a Research Fellow, Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, is the lead author of the study, “A Pro-Inflammatory Diet is Associated with Increased Odds of Frailty after 12-Year Follow-up in a Cohort of Adults.”

Approximately 1 in 6 community-dwelling older adults will develop frailty, a serious condition of impaired function of ability, which carries increased risk of falls, hospitalizations, and mortality. Previous studies linked specific nutrients with frailty or physical function but did not capture an individual’s entire diet and its impact on frailty over time. To address this concern, the researchers calculated dietary inflammatory index (DII®) score that reflects the overall inflammatory potential of one’s diet. This study, led by Dr. Millar, looked at the role of diet-associated inflammation on the likelihood of developing frailty. 

The study of 1,701 relatively healthy participants from the Framingham Heart Study found that a pro-inflammatory diet was associated with increased odds of frailty over a 12-year period. A one-point higher DII score (on a roughly 16-point scale) was associated with 16 percent higher odds of developing frailty over 12 years. The quarter of participants consuming the most pro-inflammatory diet were more than twice as likely to develop frailty as the quarter of participants who ate the most anti-inflammatory diet.

“The study indicated that regularly eating foods that contain nutrients such as dietary fiber and dietary antioxidants (such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and flavonoids) may prevent older adults from becoming frail,” Dr. Millar said. “While more studies are necessary, guidelines based on an anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce the percentage of older adults who may develop frailty and related conditions such as falls and fractures, which can improve their quality of life.”

Co-authors included:

  • Alyssa B. Dufour, Ph.D., Marcus Institute, Hebrew SeniorLife, and Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
  • Nitin Shivappa, Ph.D., M.P.H., Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. and Connecting Health Innovations LLC, Columbia, S.C. 
  • Daniel Habtemariam, M.P.H., Data Scientist; Marcus Institute, Hebrew SeniorLife.
  • Joanne M. Murabito, M.D., Boston University School of Medicine and Public Health and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Framingham Heart Study. 
  • Emelia J. Benjamin, M.D., M.Sc., Boston University School of Medicine and Public Health and the NHLBI’s Framingham Heart Study
  • James R. Hebert, D.Sc., M.S.P.H., Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. and Connecting Health Innovations LLC, Columbia, S.C. 
  • Douglas P. Kiel, M.D., M.P.H., Marcus Institute, Hebrew SeniorLife, and Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
  • Marian T. Hannan, D.Sc., M.P.H., Marcus Institute, Hebrew SeniorLife, and Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
  • Shivani Sahni, Ph.D., Marcus Institute, Hebrew SeniorLife, and Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Dr. Millar’s research was supported by the National Institute of Aging (NIA) grant no. T32-AG023480) and the Beth and Richard Applebaum Research Fund. This study was funded by the National Institute of Aging (NIA) AG051728 and the Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Framingham Heart Study (NHLBI) contract numbers HHSN268201500001I and N01-HC 25195. 

About Hebrew SeniorLife
Hebrew SeniorLife, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is a national senior services leader uniquely dedicated to rethinking, researching, and redefining the possibilities of aging. Hebrew SeniorLife cares for more than 3,000 seniors a day across six campuses throughout Greater Boston. Our locations include: Hebrew Rehabilitation Center-Boston and Hebrew Rehabilitation Center-NewBridge in Dedham; NewBridge on the Charles, Dedham; Orchard Cove, Canton; Simon C. Fireman Community, Randolph; Center Communities of Brookline, Brookline; and Jack Satter House, Revere. Founded in 1903, Hebrew SeniorLife also conducts influential research into aging at the Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, which has a portfolio of more than $63 million, making it the largest gerontological research facility in the U.S. in a clinical setting. It also trains more than 1,000 geriatric care providers each year. For more information about Hebrew SeniorLife, visit https://www.hebrewseniorlife.org or follow us on our blog, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.