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Nutrition: You May Live Longer Eating a Mediterranean Diet

You May Live Longer Eating a Mediterranean Diet
By: Val Kirk; YWCA Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor

Genetic research finds that a longer lifespan is linked to a diet light on saturated fats and meats, and heavy on fruit, vegetables, unrefined grains, nuts, olive oil, fish and low intake of dairy.  The Mediterranean Diet will also support moderate consumptions of alcohol, specifically wine with meals.

This Diet is linked to several major health benefits, such as:

  1. Enhanced cardio protection.
  2. Reduced cancer risk.
  3. Reduction in overall mortality.
  4. Decrease in nerve diseases that affect certain bodily functions such as balance, movement, talking, breathing and heart function.
  5. It has also been shown to have antioxidant properties (counteracting free radicals) and anti-inflammatory effects.

New research evaluated data from 4, 676 healthy middle-aged women (average age 59, ranging from 42 – 70) which were involved in the Nurses’ Study that tracked the health of more than 120,000 U.S. nurses since 1976.  Every 2 years participants were asked to complete questionnaires on health, lifestyle activities and diagnoses of diseases.  Every 4 years since 1984, participants were to complete a food-frequency questionnaire on 116 – 130 food items to track dietary data.  These women were free of major chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Researchers were interested in measuring specific DNA biomarkers known as ‘telomeres’, which are related to life expectancy.

Telomeres derived from the Greek work telos, meaning ‘’end’’, and meros, meaning ‘’part’’ are the end sequences of chromosomes, which are threadlike structures that house DNA.  DNA molecules contain biological instructions for the development and functioning of all living organisms.  Telomeres also help keep the DNA strand together.

It is proven that oxidative stress, free radicals and chronic inflammation reduces the strength and protectiveness of telomeres and is highly linked to aging and age related diseases.  Crous-Bou (2014) and colleagues of the research team explained that the length of the telomere is considered a biomarker of aging.  So if the telomere is short in length, there is a decreased life expectancy and an increase in susceptibility to chronic diseases.  Telomeres vary considerably between individuals, a fact that dietary patterns and lifestyle practices may partially explain.

As mentioned above, the Mediterranean diet has shown to have antioxidant (counteracting free radicals) and anti-inflammatory properties.  Researchers thought that the more antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties the longer the telomere length which in turn would decrease the aging process.  Consequently, then the main objective of this study was to examine the relationship between telomere length and how dedicated these women were  from the U.S. Nurses’ Health study with the Mediterranean Diet.

For the study researchers collected information on body mass index, cigarette smoking, physical activity and total calorie intake, as these factors can also impact telomere length.  Tests were run three times for reliability of the measurement.  The researchers in the lab were not told of the individuals characteristics.

Healthy individuals’ telomeres shorten with age anyway, but in line with other research the younger women in the study had longer telomeres (Crous-Bou et al.2014).  The results of the test had a very, very positive result.  The Mediterranean Diet is definitely associated with longer telomeres, which promotes health and longevity.

Researchers concluded that the diet being so nutrient rich has the ability to help the body overcome oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, improve metabolic pathways that help to prevent or delay heart disease, stroke, diabetes and insulin resistance.

Unfortunately, there is a down side to this story as the women of the Nurses’ study were primarily European lineage. It may be known that diet-induced changes in telomere length may differ between genders and among other cultures, so results of this study cannot be generalized to the whole population in the world. More research is needed.

One of the first studies done to measure telomere length and physical activity was Kraus et al. (2011).   This study included 944 men and women who had coronary heart disease.  Researchers measured their maximal aerobic capacity and found a strong correlation between physical fitness and telomere length.  In conclusion, they found that people with a low exercise capacity had 94% greater odds of having short telomere length than those with high exercise capacity.

It was concluded that longer telomere length and higher aerobic fitness were directly linked.

Krauss and his research team tested mice and revealed that inactivity alters the protein that regulates telomere length.  Other studies showed that aerobic exercise activates anti-inflammatory processes, which help to prevent telomere shortening.  Crous-Bou et al. (2014), in this discussion also demonstrated that physical activity (even moderate) is associated with longer telomere length.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Technology has advanced research in molecular biology and is unraveling exciting results in health, diet and fitness.  Research that went into discovering the length of telomere and aging which correlated with the Mediterranean diet can be very valuable to Personal Trainers who encourage their clients to know that lifestyle makes a difference.  Future research will surely reveal more impactful health information about the human genes.