The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet — reduction of overall mortality, increased longevity and reduced incidence of chronic diseases, especially major cardiovascular diseases — have been consistently demonstrated.
A new analysis suggests yet another potential health benefit of the Mediterranean diet. In the Nurses' Health Study, greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with greater telomere length, a biomarker of aging.
Following a diet closer to the Mediterranean diet can prevent accelerated telomere shortening. Never heard of telomere? Telomere is sometimes described as similar to the ends of your shoelaces. When they are long and intact, it is easy to thread them through the holes and lace up your shoes. However, as they wear out and fray, it gets harder and harder. Every time a cell divides, the telomere take a little hit. After some time cell division is impaired.
Telomeres are repetitive DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes that progressively shorten with age. Shorter telomeres are associated with shorter life expectancy and greater risk for age-related diseases.
Obesity, cigarette smoking, and other lifestyle factors have been linked to shorter telomere length. Oxidative stress and inflammation speed up telomere shortening.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, unrefined grains, olive oil, and fish, with a moderate amount of alcohol intake and low intake of dairy products, meat, and poultry. Fruits, vegetables, olive oil and nuts — key components of the Mediterranean diet — have well known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that could to some extent counter-balance the negative effects of smoking and obesity.
A study of 4676 healthy middle-aged women from the Nurses' Health Study found, as expected, that younger women had longer telomeres. After adjustment for potentially confounding factors, such as obesity, smoking, and physical activity, greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was significantly associated with longer telomeres.
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Reference: Mediterranean Diet May Help Slow Aging. Medscape. Dec 04, 2014.