Boston, MA--The Mediterranean diet has been consistently linked with an array of health benefits, including decreased risk of chronic disease and cancer. Until now, no previous studies have examined whether adherence to this diet is associated with longer telomere length, a biomarker of aging. Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) have found that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with longer telomeres. These findings are published online in The BMJ on December 2, 2014.
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.
"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, PhD, MPH, an associate professor in the Channing Division of Network Medicine 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."
The researchers analyzed 4,676 disease-free women from the Nurses' Health Study with measured telomere lengths and who had also completed the food frequency questionnaire. The researchers found that a greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet, and even small changes in diet, were associated with longer telomeres.
"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 and first author of the study.
De Vivo notes that future research should be aimed at determining which components of the Mediterranean diet are driving this association. This would allow researchers to gain insight into the biological mechanism as well as provide a basis for increased public education for informed lifestyle choices.
This research was supported by The Nurses' Health Study (NHS) is supported by the National Cancer Institute -- National Institutes of Health (1R01 CA134958, 2R01 CA082838, P01 CA087969, R01 CA49449, CA065725, CA132190, CA139586, CA140790, CA133914, CA132175, CA163451, HL088521, HL60712, U54 CA155626, R01 AR059073, HL34594). MCB is also supported by a Sara Borrell postdoctoral fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Health, Carlos III Health Institute. MD is supported by grant R25 CA94880 from the National Cancer Institute. QS is supported by an NHLBI--‐sponsored career development award R00HL098459.
Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a 793-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare. BWH has more than 3.5 million annual patient visits, is the largest birthing center in New England and employs nearly 15,000 people. The Brigham's medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in patient care, quality improvement and patient safety initiatives, and its dedication to research, innovation, community engagement and educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Biomedical Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, more than 1,000 physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by nearly $650 million in funding. For the last 25 years, BWH ranked second in research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) among independent hospitals. BWH continually pushes the boundaries of medicine, including building on its legacy in transplantation by performing a partial face transplant in 2009 and the nation's first full face transplant in 2011. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses' and Physicians' Health Studies and the Women's Health Initiative. For more information and resources, please visit BWH's online newsroom.