Adherence to a Mediterranean diet linked to longer telomere length

1. Women who more closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet had longer telomeres.

2. Individual components of the Mediterranean diet were not associated with telomere length, suggesting that dietary components act synergistically

Evidence Rating Level: 3 (Average)       

Study Rundown: Telomeres are repetitive DNA sequences located on the ends of chromosomes that undergo attrition during cell regeneration and protect genomic DNA. Telomere attrition is accelerated by inflammation and oxidative stress. The Mediterranean diet is characterized by foods containing antioxidants and has been linked to decreased mortality, decreased burden of chronic disease, and healthier aging. In this analysis of data from the Nurses’ Health Study, a female cohort, it was found that greater overall adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet was associated with longer telomere length. However, no association was found between individual dietary components and telomere length giving credence to the theory that the individual components act synergistically.

The predominant strength of this study is the large study population with high-quality socio-demographic, lifestyle, and laboratory data. However, these data are in a limited population of women healthcare professionals of predominantly European ancestry, limiting the generalizability of results. Furthermore, these results are derived from a cross-sectional analysis, limiting evaluation of causality in the association of dietary patterns and telomere length. Nevertheless, these data provide initial evidence that dietary habits may be related to a biomarker of longevity and better health.

Click to read the study in the BMJ

Click to read an accompanying editorial in the BMJ

Relevant Reading: Healthy lifestyle and leukocyte telomere length in U.S. women

In-Depth [cross-sectional study]: This study evaluated the association between adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet and telomere length. Dietary patterns were assessed by food frequency questionnaires in 4,676 women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study and were analyzed compared to leukocyte telomere length. Spearman’s partial rank correlation coefficients and multivariable logistic regression were used for statistical analysis. It was found that younger women had longer telomeres (p<0.001) and higher Alternate Mediterranean Diet scores (indicating greater adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet) were associated with a higher multivariable-adjusted telomere length z-score (p=0.004). None of the individual dietary components were significantly associated with telomere length. Associations between other diet types and telomere length were also assessed. A weak positive association was found between a higher Alternative Healthy Eating Index score, a measure of consumption of foods with proven associations with chronic disease, and longer telomere length (p=0.02). No association was found between a higher Western dietary pattern score and telomere length.

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