The old adage “You are what you eat” is true with the Mediterranean diet with nuts, vegetables, fruits, beans and peas, unrefined grains, olive oil and fish. With minimized dairy, meat and saturated fats, Mediterranean diet keeps you live longer, says a new study.
Led by Immaculata De Vivo, associate professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School, the research mined data from 4,676 healthy middle-aged women involved in the Nurses’ Health Study of more than 120,000 U.S. nurses since 1976.
The study found that the women who ate a Mediterranean diet had longer telomeres, which are part of your chromosomes, the thread-like structures that house the DNA. At the end of these chromosomes are telomeres, a kind of protective “cap” that keeps the structure from unraveling and protecting the genetic information.
Telomeres shorten with age and cause lower life expectancy and trigger age-related diseases such as artherosclerosis, certain cancers and liver disease. Reasons attributed to shortening of telomeres were smoking, obesity, and consuming sugar sweetened drinks.
Fruits, vegetables, olive oils and nuts in a Mediterranean diet work as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents and the U.S. researchers found that the women who took the diet had longer telomeres.
“This is the largest population-based study addressing the association between Mediterranean diet adherence and telomere length in healthy, middle aged women,” they write.
Each participant had a calculated diet score ranging from 0 to 9 points; a higher score signifies a closer resemblance to the Mediterranean diet. Each one point change in diet score corresponded an average of 1.5 years of telomere aging.
While Telomere shortening is irreversible, healthy “lifestyle choices can help prevent accelerated shortening,” says De Vivo.
Because of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, following this diet “could balance out the ‘bad effects’ of smoking and obesity,” De Vivo points out.
However, Peter Nilsson, a professor of Clinical Cardiovascular Research at Lund University in Sweden, who wrote the editorial, says the variation in telomere length and dietary patterns may also be because of genetic background factors. Future studies “should take into account the possibility of interactions between genes, diet and sex.”
The study intends to focus on men in their next phase.