No formula has yet been made that could provide the effects of the legendary fountain of youth, but those who want to stay young for a much longer time have an option. Having a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, legumes and olive oils appears to slow down aging.
Findings of a new research provide evidence that people who follow a Mediterranean diet have biological markers of slower aging, suggesting that the regimen may help improve one's chances of having a longer life.
For the new study published in the BMJ on Dec. 2, Immaculata De Vivo from the Harvard Medical School, together with colleagues, looked at the data on the telomere length of 4,676 women who participated in the Nurses' Health Study, which has been tracking the health of the nurses in the U.S. for nearly 40 years.
Telomeres are tiny structures found at the ends of the chromosomes, which prevent genetic information from getting lost during cell division. As we age, the genetic material naturally gets shorter but they are likely to shorten more slowly in healthy individuals.
Experts associate shorter telomeres with increased risks of age-related diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, as well as a shorter life span. Evidence also shows that unhealthy lifestyle practices, such as being overweight, consumption of sweetened beverages and smoking, can prematurely shorten an individual's telomeres.
In order to assess the link between telomere length and consumption of Mediterranean diet, the researchers asked the participants to complete a food questionnaire. Even after adjusting for other factors that could influence telomere length, such as smoking status, age and engagement in physical activities, De Vivo and colleagues found that those who adhere to a Mediterranean diet had longer telomeres.
"In this large study, greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with longer telomeres," the researchers wrote. "These results further support the benefits of adherence to the Mediterranean diet for promoting health and longevity."
Although the study is observational and does not prove a causal relationship, the researchers said that the study strengthens the health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet. As to why the regimen appears to have benefits on longevity, the researchers said that the antioxidants present in the components of the diet help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress associated with many chronic diseases.
"It's the richness of diet," De Vivo said. "But it's not lengthening the telomere, it's just buffering it against accelerated shrinking. In other words, it keeps telomeres from shrinking faster than they should."