Many studies have associated the Mediterranean diet with protection from a number of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Now, Harvard researchers provide additional evidence that this eating style promotes longevity.
Researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, found that those following a Mediterranean diet had longer telomeres, a biomarker of aging.
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Telomeres are found at the ends of chromosomes and protect from deterioration. Longer telomeres have been associated with longer life, while shorter telomeres have been associated with decreased life expectancy and increased risk of age-related disease, according to the researchers.
Certain lifestyle characteristics such as obesity, smoking, consumption of sugar sweetened beverages as well as oxidative stress have been associated with shorter telomeres.
The findings published in the British Medical Journal included data from 4,676 women from the Nurses’ Health Study — an ongoing study running since 1976 that has been following over 120,000 nurses from the United States. The participants filled out food frequency questionnaires periodically (about every 4 years), and had blood tests for measurement of telomere length. The Alternate Mediterranean Diet Score was used to assess adherence to the diet.
The results showed that greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet — characterized by high intake of vegetables, olive oil, fruit, legumes and less red meat and saturated fats — was significantly associated with longer telomere length.
The researchers noted that oxidative stress can accelerate telomere weakening and the established effect of the Mediterranean diet on oxidative stress may explain its effect on telomere length.
The researchers concluded that the results further support the benefits of adherence to the Mediterranean diet for promoting health and longevity.