Mediterranean Diet: Good Health, Long Life

Mediterranean diet tied to longer telomere length, linked to increased longevity

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The Mediterranean diet — already known for its heart-health benefits — may make you live longer.

A new study found that people who stuck with the Mediterranean diet had longer telomeres — a known marker of aging — which might be linked to increased longevity.

"It has long been known that inflammation in the body is a root cause of many chronic diseases. Inflammation increases oxidative stress, consequently eroding the telomeres which help keep our genes intact," said Tina Marinaccio, MS, a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) from Morristown, New Jersey.

"The Mediterranean diet is high in anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids, and low in pro-inflammatory foods, such as saturated fats and processed foods. Following a Mediterranean-type diet could decrease inflammation in the body, leading to not only longer life, but improved quality of life by staving off inflammatory diseases," Marinaccio told dailyRx News.

"Our results further support the benefits of adherence to this diet to promote health and longevity," said senior study author Immaculata De Vivo, PhD, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, in a press release.

The Mediterranean diet encourages eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and olive oil. Dairy and red meat are not common to this diet.

Telomeres are structures at the end of chromosomes that get shorter with age. The length of a patient's telomeres is often used as a marker of aging.

Dr. De Vivo and team analyzed data on 4,676 healthy women from a past study called the Nurses' Health Study. The average age of the women was 59.

Patients in the study completed surveys about their diets and had a blood test to measure telomere length.

Dr. De Vivo and colleagues assigned scores of 0 to 9 to each patient's diet. A higher number meant that the patient's diet more closely matched the Mediterranean diet.

Women who had a diet that most resembled the Mediterranean diet (highest diet scores) had the longest telomeres, these researchers found.

Dr. De Vivo and team estimated that each 1-point increase in diet score corresponded to 1.5 years in telomere aging — meaning the patient could see a 1.5-year increase in lifespan for each point. A change of 3 points on the diet score correlated with 4.5 years in telomere aging and was similar to the telomere aging increase seen in nonsmokers compared to smokers, these researchers said.

An editorial by Peter M. Nilsson, MD, PhD, from the Lund University and Skane University Hospital in Malmo, Sweden, highlighted some other possible interpretations of the study.

Some of the women in the study were from Mediterranean heritage, had similar genetic backgrounds and may have preferred the diet, Dr. Nilsson said.

“Genetic background factors, reflecting ancestry, could probably explain some of the variation in the association between dietary patterns and telomere length," Dr. Nilsson wrote. "Future studies on this question should take into account the possibility of interactions between genes, diet, and sex."

The study and the editorial were published Dec. 2 in the BMJ.

Grants from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health funded the Nurses' Health Study. Study author Dr. Marta Crous-Bou was funded by a Sara Borrell postdoctoral fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.


Review Date: 
December 2, 2014
Last Updated:
March 25, 2015