Researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) found that greater adherence to a healthy diet and particularly a colourful Mediterranean Diet was linked to general health and increased longevity. This is recorded in the Harvard Gazette under the heading, “Mediterranean Diet has marked impact on Aging” (sic).
“Our findings showed that healthy eating, overall, was associated with longer telomeres. However, the strongest association was observed among women who adhered to the Mediterranean diet,” explained Marta Crous Bou, a postdoctoral fellow in the Channing Division of Network Medicine.
Telomeres are rather like the plastic ends holding shoe laces together – they are repetitive DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes. However, they get shorter every time a cell divides.
Shorter telomeres have been associated with decreased life expectancy and increased risk of age-related disease, while longer telomeres have been linked to longevity.
Telomeres become short in cancer patients. And it is known that telomeres shortening is accelerated by chronic inflammation and stress hormones such as Cortisol.
Scientist at Harvard and at UCLA have previously found that adherence to a colourful Mediterranean diet (The Rainbow Diet) helps protect against that effect. Indeed in a report on Stress management UCLA concluded that a colourful Mediterranean diet including good levels of fish oils would protect and even extend telomeres.
“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,” explained Immaculata De Vivo, an associate professor in the Channing Division of Network Medicine. “Our results further support the benefits of adherence to this diet to promote health and longevity.”
The researchers analysed 4,676 disease-free women from the Nurses’ Health Study who had completed the food-frequency questionnaire and whose telomere lengths had been measured.
They found that a greater adherence to a Rainbow Diet was associated with longer telomeres, and that even small changes in diet made a big difference.