How would you characterize your typical diet? Fast food heavy, dining out, carb loading? Now a new study Rick and I discuss on PodMed this week provides further support that we might all benefit from adoption of the so-called 'Mediterranean diet,' as published in the BMJ. That's the conclusion at least if you're persuaded by the life-preserving capabilities of telomeres, those protective ends of chromosomes that shorten as we age. Huh? How's telomere length related to diet? Let's take a look at the study.
Researchers looked at data from the Nurses Health Study, specifically from almost 4700 of the 121,700 original enrollees, all female registered nurses who began the study in 1976. This analysis relies on a group selected because they were free of major chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer, having been identified as healthy controls in other analyses of this data set, had completed food questionnaires, and had had their white blood cells analyzed for telomere length.
So what about this diet? While the traditional Mediterranean diet is described as having a" high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and grains (mainly unrefined); a high intake of olive oil but a low intake of saturated lipids; a moderately high intake of fish; a low intake of dairy products, meat, and poultry; and a regular but moderate intake of alcohol (specifically wine with meals)" the questionnaire utilized in this study gave point values to each component of the diet in what is called the 'Alternate Mediterranean diet score.' The score allowed quantitation of each additional dietary choice. Additional dietary analyses were also employed.
What about those telomeres? As Nobel Prize recipient Carol Greider, our colleague here at Johns Hopkins describes, telomeres are like those little plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces. As time goes on these get shorter and shorter, with short telomeres associated with cancer, some autoimmune diseases, and aging. Nurses enrolled in this study had their telomere length assessed just once. This was correlated with their diet score, and lo and behold! Those women who reported greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet also had longer telomeres, and the relationship was dose-response; the more adherent a woman was the longer her telomeres were.
Potential confounders were also considered in this study, with women who had higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet also smoking less, exercising more, weighing less, and also being slightly older at the time their blood was drawn. Still, the authors conclude that the study provides more evidence for the potential benefit of adopting a more Mediterranean-style diet. Since we like that kind of food, Rick and I are happy to do so, but we're still waiting for the smoking gun with regard to the exact relationship between telomeres, aging and disease.
Other topics this week include unsafe infant sleeping practices in Pediatrics, circumcision recommendations from the CDC, and taking asthma drugs daily or only as needed in the Lancet. Until next week, y'all live well.