Mediterranean DietThe Mediterranean Diet appears to have an anti aging effect in a just published study. The study, in the December 2014 edition of the British Medical Journal, found that the Mediterranean Diet was associated with telomere length, a biological marker of aging.

Telomeres are DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes that protect the chromosomes from damage and allow healthy cell regeneration. The length of these sequences is a biological marker of aging; longer telomeres are associated with longer life expectancy and lower risk for chronic disease (NEJM JW Gen Med Jul 20 2010). Telomeres have been shown to shorten in many situations with high stress.

Data from the 4700 women who took part in the Nurses’ Health Study was analyzed to see if better adherence to the Mediterranean Diet was associated with longer telomeres. When they adjusted for the age of the nurses, whether or not they were overweight, their smoking status, physical activity level, and caloric intake, they found that the more closely these women adhered to the diet the longer their telomere length.

Not only was there a statistically significant association, but the findings were clearly clinically significant. According to the authors –

“The difference in telomere length for each one point change in the Alternate Mediterranean Diet score (a measure of how closely the women adhered to the diet) corresponded … to 1.5 years of aging. A three point change in the Alternate Mediterranean Diet score would correspond to on average 4.5 years of aging, which is comparable to the difference observed when comparing smokers with non-smokers…”

This questionnaire is a reasonable one to measure adherence to the diet –

Questions

  • Do you use olive oil as the main culinary fat? YES = 1 POINT
  • How much olive oil do you consume in a given day (including oil used for frying, salads, out-of-house meals, etc.)? 4 TBSP OR MORE = 1 POINT
    How many vegetable servings do you consume per day? (1 serving : one cup [consider side dishes as half a serving]) 2 OR MORE SERVINGS COOKED OR 1 OR MORE SERVINGS RAW = 1 POINT
  • How many fruit units (including natural fruit juices) do you consume per day? 3 OR MORE PER DAY = 1 POINT
  • How many servings of red meat, hamburger, or meat products (ham, sausage, etc.) do you consume per day? (1 serving: 1/2 to 3/4 cup) LESS THAN 1 SERVING PER DAY = 1 POINT
  • How many servings of butter, margarine, or cream do you consume per day? (1 serving: 1 Tbsp) LESS THAN 1 SERVING PER DAY = 1 POINT
  • How many sweet or carbonated beverages do you drink per day? LESS THAN 1 SERVING PER DAY = 1 POINT
  • How much red wine do you drink per week? 7 OR MORE GLASSES PER WEEK = 1 POINT
  • How many servings of legumes (lentils, peas, beans, peanuts) do you consume per week? (1 serving : 3/4 cup) 3 SERVINGS PER WEEK OR MORE = 1 POINT
  • How many servings of fish or shellfish do you consume per week? (1 serving 1/2 to 3/4 cup of fish) 3 SERVINGS OR MORE PER WEEK = 1 POINT
  • How many times per week do you consume commercial sweets or pastries (not homemade), such as cakes, cookies, biscuits, or custard? LESS THAN 3 SERVINGS PER WEEK = 1 POINT
  • How many servings of nuts (including peanuts) do you consume per week? (1 serving = 2 tbsp) 3 SERVINGS OR MORE PER WEEK = 1 POINT
  • Do you preferentially consume chicken, turkey, or rabbit meat instead of veal, pork, hamburger, or sausage? YES = 1 POINT
  • How many times per week do you consume vegetables, pasta, rice, or other dishes seasoned with sofrito (sauce made with tomato and onion, leek, or garlic and simmered with olive oil)? 2 TIMES OR MORE PER WEEK = 1 POINT

Since this scale has a maximum score of 13, and the study cited used a scale with a maximum score of 9, increasing your current score by 4 points would equal roughly 5 years of reduced aging…

Reference

Crous-Bou M, Fung TT, Prescott J, Julin B, Du M, Sun Q, Rexrode KM, Hu FB, De Vivo I. Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study. BMJ. 2014 Dec 2;349:g6674. doi: 10.1136/bmj.g6674. PubMed PMID: 25467028; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4252824.

Trichopoulou A, Costacou T, Bamia C, Trichopoulos D. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and survival in a Greek population. N Engl J Med 2003;348:2599-608.

Martínez-González MA, García-Arellano A, Toledo E, Salas-Salvadó J, Buil-Cosiales P, Corella D, Covas MI, Schröder H, Arós F, Gómez-Gracia E, Fiol M, Ruiz-Gutiérrez V, Lapetra J, Lamuela-Raventos RM, Serra-Majem L, Pintó X, Muñoz MA, Wärnberg J, Ros E, Estruch R; PREDIMED Study Investigators. A 14-item Mediterranean diet assessment tool and obesity indexes among high-risk subjects: the PREDIMED trial. PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e43134. Epub 2012 Aug 14. PubMed PMID: 22905215; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3419206.