Women who eat a Mediterranean-style diet may live longer than those who don't, according to new study that looked at one marker of aging.
Women in the study who ate more Mediterranean foods— such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, unrefined grains, fish and olive oil— and drank moderate amounts of wine with their meals had longer telomeres in their blood cells. Telomeres are sequences of DNA that form protective caps at the ends of chromosomes.
Telomeres get shorter every time a cell divides, so their length is thought to be a measure of a cell's aging. Stress and inflammation may also shorten people's telomeres, the researchers said in the study, published today (Dec. 2) in the journal The BMJ.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, and may buffer that shortening, said the study's senior author, Immaculata De Vivo, an associate professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. [Extending Life: 7 Ways to Live Past 100]
"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," De Vivo said in a statement. "Our results further support the benefits of adherence to this diet to promote health and longevity."
The study included nearly 4,700 women who were participating in the Nurses' Health Study, a long-term study following the health of more than 120,000 nurses working in the U.S. The researchers measured the length of telomeres in blood cells from samples the nurses gave between 1989 and 1990. The researchers also scored the women's diets on a scale from zero to nine, with a higher number indicating greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet.
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