(HealthDay News) — Sustained diet changes — even later in life — can extend people’s lives, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The findings are based on 73,739 US health professionals who were part of two long-running studies that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Between 1998 and 2010, almost 10,000 of those study participants died. Mercedes Sotos-Prieto, PhD, a visiting scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues looked at how people’s risk of early death related to any diet changes they’d made in the previous 12 years (1986 to 1998). The researchers used three scoring systems: the Alternate Healthy Eating Index; the Alternate Mediterranean Diet score; and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet score.

Overall, the researchers found, a 20-percentile improvement in diet quality was linked to an 8% to 17% decrease in the risk of early all-cause mortality. There was a similar decrease in the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or stroke, specifically.

“Improved diet quality over 12 years was consistently associated with a decreased risk of death,” the authors write.

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  1. Sotos-Prieto M, Bhupathiraju SN, Mattei J, et al. Association of Changes in Diet Quality with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. N Engl J Med. 13 July 2017. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1613502