Mediterranean Diet Linked to Longevity

According to a new study by Brigham and Women's researchers.

Ponce de Leon may have been searching for the Fountain of Youth, but perhaps all he really needed was to eat more foods found near his home region of Spain.

In a new study published online in The BMJ, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) researchers linked eating a Mediterranean diet with longer telomeres—a biomarker of aging.

While the health benefits of eating a Mediterranean diet—including decreased risk of chronic disease and cancer—continue to add up, there hadn’t been any studies associating this way of eating with longer telomere length, until now.

According to Brigham and Women’s Hospital:

Telomeres, biomarkers of aging, are repetitive DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes that get shorter every time a cell divides. Shorter telomeres have been associated with decreased life-expectancy and increased risk of aging-related disease, while longer telomeres have been linked with longevity. Telomere shortening is accelerated by stress and inflammation and it is speculated that adherence to the Mediterranean diet may help buffer telomere shortening.

The study looked at 4,676 disease-free women from the Nurses’ Health Study. Telomere lengths were measured, and then study participants filled out a “food frequency questionnaire.” The researchers found that the more the women stuck to the diet, the longer the telomere length. The best part is that even small changes in diet was associated with longer telomeres, which means that it’s never too late to begin a healthy diet.

“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,” said Immaculata De Vivo, PhD, MPH, an associate professor at BWH and Harvard School of Public Health and senior author of this study. “Our results further support the benefits of adherence to this diet to promote health and longevity.”

De Vivo also says that more research is needed to figure out which parts of the diet are actually responsible for the longer telomeres. This kind of research could help educate the public on how to to eat for longevity.

“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 at BWH’s Channing Division of Network Medicine and first author of the study.