The Mediterranean diet has been consistently linked with an array of health benefits, including decreased risk of chronic disease and cancer. Until now, no previous studies have examined whether adherence to this diet is associated with longer telomere length, a biomarker of aging. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have found that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with longer telomeres. These findings are published online in The BMJ on December 2, 2014.
Telomeres, biomarkers of aging, are repetitive DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes that get shorter every time a cell divides. Shorter telomeres have been associated with decreased life-expectancy and increased risk of aging-related disease, while longer telomeres have been linked with longevity. Telomere shortening is accelerated by stress and inflammation and it is speculated that adherence to the Mediterranean diet may help buffer telomere shortening.
“To our knowledge this is the largest population-based study specifically addressing the association between Mediterranean diet adherence and telomere length in healthy, middle-aged women,” explained Immaculata De Vivo, PhD, MPH, an associate professor in the Channing Division of Network Medicine at BWH and Harvard School of Public Health and senior author of this study. “Our results further support the benefits of adherence to this diet to promote health and longevity.”
The researchers analyzed 4,676 disease-free women from the Nurses’ Health Study with measured telomere lengths and who had also completed the food frequency questionnaire. The researchers found that a greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet, and even small changes in diet, were associated with longer telomeres.
“Our findings showed that healthy eating, overall, was associated with longer telomeres. However, the strongest association was observed among women who adhered to the Mediterranean diet,” explained Marta Crous-Bou, a postdoctoral fellow in the Channing Division of Network Medicine and first author of the study.
De Vivo notes that future research should be aimed at determining which components of the Mediterranean diet are driving this association. This would allow researchers to gain insight into the biological mechanism as well as provide a basis for increased public education for informed lifestyle choices.