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School of Health Sciences

Two portions of vegetables per day adequate to protect against inflammation in older people

 Various vegetables on a table.

Only two portions of vegetables per day can reduce systemic inflammation that affects multiple parts of the body simultaneously, a new doctoral thesis from Örebro University has shown. Fruit, on the other hand, does not seem to have the same effect.

“These findings can be drawn on by anyone wanting to improve their health. Healthcare professionals also have use for the results in working to promote healthy ageing,” says Konstantinos-Georgios Papaioannou, who recently defended his doctoral thesis at the research school Newbreed at Örebro University. Newbreed is part of the university’s strategic initiative Successful ageing.

In his thesis, he has shown that the levels of the inflammatory marker interleukin-6 (IL-6) is significantly lower in older people who eat at least two portions of vegetables per day, compared with those eating less. Importantly, this association is independent of the participants’ physical activity, sedentary behaviour, amount of body fat, or their healthy food intake in other respects.

“This is in line with previous research. The fact that we have considered the amount of body fat in our study, further strengthens our findings since there is a correlation between inflammatory markers and the amount of body fat,” says Konstantinos-Georgios Papaioannou.

On the other hand, the study showed that fruit consumption does not have the same effect as vegetables on any of the six inflammatory biomarkers included in the study.

“It was somewhat unexpected that we could not find any links, and in part it can be explained by insufficient intake of fruits. More studies are needed in this field to determine the optimal amount of fruit and vegetables for positive health effects among older people.”

Konstantinos-Georgios PapaioannouKonstantinos-Georgios Papaioannou.

Sedentary behaviour harmful to our health

In one of the sub-studies, Konstantinos-Georgios Papaioannou also examined the relationships between sedentary behaviour and inflammatory biomarkers. The study included 252 men and women aged between 65 and 70. Sedentary time was measured as periods of 10 and 30 minutes, as well as the total amount of sedentary time.

“We were able to see harmful links between excessive sedentary behaviour and inflammatory biomarkers. Interestingly, our findings show that these links are different in men and women.”

Moderate to intense physical activity did not compensate for the harmful impact of excessive amounts of sedentary behaviour. However, total daily physical activity had a reducing effect on some of the harmful links between sedentary behaviour patterns and inflammation. The results suggest that lower amounts of total daily physical activity rather than prolonged sedentary behaviour may partly explain the harmful links between sedentary behaviour and biomarkers of inflammation.

“Our research supports the current guidelines for diet and physical activity. It also shows that the daily intake of vegetables can promote health in older people even if the intake does not match the recommended daily intake, which is five servings of fruit and vegetables per day,” says Konstantinos-Georgios Papaioannou.

Text: Jasenka Dobric
Translation: Charlotta Hambre-Knight
Photos: Jasenka Dobric and Unsplash