December 2nd, 2014

Adherence to Mediterranean Diet Linked to Marker of Healthy Aging

Following a string of recent successes and favorable publicity for the Mediterranean Diet, a a new study published in The BMJ finds that women who more closely followed a Mediterranean diet had longer telomeres, a key measure of healthy aging.

The new report is based on data from 4676 women in the Nurses’ Health Study who completed food-frequency questionnaires and who also had their telomere length measured. In line with much previous research, the researchers found longer telomeres in younger women and nonsmoking women. Women with high scores indicating close adherence to the Mediterranean Diet had longer telomeres after adjustment for age. The association remained significant after adjustment for other characteristics likely to influence telomere length, including body mass index, smoking history, exercise, postmenopausal hormone therapy, and hypertension.

There was no significant link between telomere length and individual components of the Mediterranean diet, which included above-average consumption of vegetables (but not potatoes), fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish, and  monounsaturated fats like olive oil; moderate alcohol intake; and below-average consumption of red and processed meats. The authors write that this finding emphasizes “the importance of examining the relation between dietary patterns, in addition to separate dietary factors, and health.”

The researchers found no significant association between telomere length and other dietary patterns, including the prudent and Western dietary patterns. There was weak positive association with a generic healthy eating pattern.

The authors calculated that the difference in telomere length among women who were more adherent to the Mediterranean Diet could translate into an average gain of about 4.5 years of life, roughly comparable to the difference between nonsmokers and smokers or being highly active and less active.

“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,” the authors write. “Our results further support the benefits of adherence to the Mediterranean diet for promoting health and longevity.”

The study “adds to the evidence” that longer telomeres are linked to healthy lifestyles, writes Peter Nilsson, in an accompanying editorial. “A Mediterranean diet is the cornerstone of dietary advice in cardiovascular disease prevention, and the fact that it also links with a biomarker of slower ageing is reassuring.” But he also points out the limitations of cross-sectional studies and calls for studies that measure “the attrition or shortening of telomeres over time.” He notes that genetic factors might explain “some of the variation in the association between dietary patterns and telomere length.”



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