Healthy Diets Like the Mediterranean Diet Are Tied to Better Cellular Aging

Nutritious diets have a lengthening effect on chromosomal structures called telomeres, which help protect against chronic disease.

Oct. 29, 2018
By Mary West

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Researchers found eat­ing a diet rich in fruits, veg­eta­bles and whole grains but lim­ited in sugar and processed meat pro­moted health­ier cel­lu­lar aging in women. Par­tic­i­pants who fol­lowed the Mediter­ranean diet (Med­Diet) and sim­i­lar eat­ing plans also had a reduced risk of chronic dis­eases.

Find­ings sug­gest that fol­low­ing these guide­lines is asso­ci­ated with longer telom­ere length and reduces the risk of major chronic dis­ease.- Cindy Leung, Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan School of Pub­lic Health

The key take­away is that fol­low­ing a healthy diet can help us main­tain healthy cells and avoid cer­tain chronic dis­eases,” said lead author Cindy Leung, assis­tant pro­fes­sor of nutri­tional sci­ences at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan School of Pub­lic Health. Empha­sis should be placed on improv­ing the over­all qual­ity of your diet rather than empha­siz­ing indi­vid­ual foods or nutri­ents.”

In the research pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Epi­demi­ol­ogy, the sci­en­tists used telom­ere length to assess cel­lu­lar aging. Telom­eres are struc­tures at the end of chro­mo­somes that pro­tect DNA. The aging process short­ens them more than any other fac­tor, but behav­ioral, psy­cho­log­i­cal and envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors have a short­en­ing influ­ence as well. Shorter telom­eres are linked to a higher risk of type 2 dia­betes, heart dis­ease and cer­tain can­cers.

Leung and the research team eval­u­ated the diets of nearly 5,000 healthy adults. They noted the par­tic­i­pants’ scores relat­ing to their con­sump­tion of four nutri­tious eat­ing plans, includ­ing the Med­Diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hyper­ten­sion (DASH) and two other high-qual­ity diets devel­oped by health experts.

Analy­sis of the data showed a dif­fer­ence between gen­ders on the effect of healthy diets on telom­eres. For women, higher scores on each of the four diets were sig­nif­i­cantly linked to longer telom­ere length. While the link was noted in men, it wasn’t sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant.


We were sur­prised that the find­ings were con­sis­tent regard­less of the diet qual­ity index we used,” said Leung. All four diets empha­size eat­ing plenty of fruits, veg­eta­bles, whole grains and plant-based pro­tein and lim­it­ing con­sump­tion of sugar, sodium and red and processed meat. Over­all, the find­ings sug­gest that fol­low­ing these guide­lines is asso­ci­ated with longer telom­ere length and reduces the risk of major chronic dis­ease.”

What could account for the dif­fer­ence between gen­ders? Accord­ing to Leung, ear­lier stud­ies show that men tend to have lower diet qual­ity than women, as they con­sume sug­ary bev­er­ages and processed meats more fre­quently.

Olive Oil Times spoke with Sara Wilbur of the Uni­ver­sity of Alaska in Fair­banks, a researcher whose work focuses on telom­ere dynam­ics. She explained that the rela­tion­ship between a healthy diet and telom­ere length is prob­a­bly tied in with the con­tent of antiox­i­dants and omega‑3 fatty acids.

Although this is still an area of active research, the rela­tion­ship is likely linked to oxida­tive stress. Because oxida­tive stress has a short­en­ing effect on telom­eres, eat­ing foods rich in antiox­i­dants can counter this action, thus help­ing pre­serve telom­ere length. In addi­tion, research shows that diets high in omega‑3 polyun­sat­u­rated fatty acids are cor­re­lated with telom­ere length­en­ing.”

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