Half a cup of broccoli a day can help older people avoid being hospitalised for a fall, new research from Edith Cowan University has found

Researchers from the School of Medical and Health Sciences studied the diets of a group of older Western Australian women above the age of 70 and tracked falls over 15 years.

They found that those who ate at least one serve of cruciferous vegetables – such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage or broccoli – each day had a significantly lower risk of having a fall that required hospitalisation.

Lead researcher Dr Marc Sim said it is vital to investigate new ways to prevent people from falling.

“We wanted to find out what factors could help prevent people from falling to allow them to maintain their quality of life well into old age,” he said.

The research found that higher overall vegetable consumption was associated with a lower risk of
falls requiring hospitalisation.

Eating cruciferous vegetables provided the greatest benefit.

“We also found that higher overall vegetable consumption was associated with better muscle strength and physical function in our participants, which we suspect is one of the ways they reduce the risk of falling,” Dr Sim said.

“What we are now interested in investigating further is why cruciferous vegetables in particular seem to be so good at preventing these falls.”

As pointed out in the study, the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend a combination of physical activity and consuming a range of nutritious foods – including a diverse range of vegetables.

The authors have previously pointed out the association of higher vegetable intake with lower fracture risk.

However to date, the importance of vegetable diversity remains unclear, they said.

“Over 14.5 years (15,539 person-years) of follow-up (mean ± SD; 10.9 ± 4.2 year), 39.7% (568/1429) of participants experienced an injurious fall,” they wrote.

“The number of women who experienced an injurious fall in the low (≤3 number/day), moderate (4 number/day) and high (≥5 number/day) vegetable diversity groups were 206 (42.6%), 177 (40.2%), and 185 (36.6%), respectively.

“Kaplan-Meier survival curves for unadjusted injurious falls were significantly different among vegetable diversity groups. In the multivariable-adjusted model, increased vegetable diversity was associated with reduced hazards for an injurious fall; per increase in one different vegetable per day HR 0.92 95% CI (0.86–0.99), p = 0.02.

“High vegetable diversity (≥5 number/day) was associated with a 23% hazard reduction for injurious falls compared to low vegetable diversity (≤3 number/day).”

The authors concluded that the research indicates benefits of greater vegetable diversity for reducing injurious fall and fracture risks in older community-dwelling Australian women.

“Of importance, the greatest benefits of increasing vegetable diversity may be observed in women with low vegetable intake,” they concluded.

“These findings could have implications for nutritional guidelines promoted by public health organisations to reduce the risk of falls and/or fractures in older community-dwelling women.”

Dr Sim highlighted that suffering an injurious fall can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life.

“On top of the physical impact, suffering a fall has been linked to a reduced participation in social and physical activities due to a fear of falling again,” Dr Sim said.

“Additionally, falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalisations in people aged over 65, which is projected to cost the health system approximately $789 million per year by 2021.”