The study was led by Immaculata de Vivo. She and her team of researchers looked at data from more than 4,600 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study, a U.S. group that has been the center of many studies since 1976.
Participants were given a score of 0 to 9, depending on how strictly they followed a Mediterranean diet. It was determined that participants who ranked higher on the scale had slower telomeres. Telomeres are found at the ends of chromosomes, akin to the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces. Telomeres prevent chromosomes from deteriorating and scrambling genetic codes. It’s natural for this genetic material to grow shorter as we age, however they shorten more slowly in healthy people.
De Vivo and her team discovered that it wasn’t the intake of any specific food items in the Mediterranean diet that affected the telomeres length. It was the overall diet and eating patterns that was linked to the size of telomeres.
The diet incorporates whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, fish, and olive oil. To be successful in the Mediterranean regimen it’s important to avoid dairy and white bread. In the past, researchers have linked heart health and lowered risk for chronic disease to the diet.
Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, concurs that telomere length is often connected to aging. It’s typical for people who shorter telomeres to be overweight or candidates for obesity, cigarette smokers, and big sugar eaters.
Other specialists are dubious about De Vivo’s findings. Dr. David Llewellyn, a senior research fellow in clinical epidemiology at the University Exeter believes that observational studies such as this one can often produce misleading figures. He thinks that the relationship between telomere length and the Mediterranean diet might be casual. However, he also believes that any kind of “dietary intervention” can lead to better health.
(Photo courtesy of Meal Makeover Moms)