How Your Diet Can Make You Younger: The Mediterranean Diet And Aging
By T.N. Melber
A Mediterranean diet may be the key to a longer, healthier life. Switching to a Mediterranean diet means reducing red meat consumption while increasing intake of seafood, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and virgin olive oil. A growing body of research links the Mediterranean diet to lower levels of inflammation, better heart health, and healthier cells.
With age, people experience increased risks of conditions that cause high levels of inflammation. Inflammation occurs when the body is injured, sick, or stressed. In some cases, inflammatory processes are good. They help the body respond to what ails it. In other cases, inflammatory molecules may cause problems and need to be monitored or controlled. In both scenarios, a reduction in inflammation indicates that the body has dealt with the problem or is no longer at risk for negative consequences. Inflammatory markers are useful indicators when looking at risk of developing serious conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. C-reactive protein is one such marker commonly measured by medical practitioners and researchers. High levels of C-reactive protein can predict the onset of type II diabetes and are also linked to dangerous build up in arteries and coronary heart disease. However, inflammation also responds to nutrition and dietary changes. Recent research shows that sticking to a Mediterranean diet reduces levels of C-reactive protein and other inflammatory markers.
The Mediterranean diet does not just reduce levels of inflammation, however. It lowers individual risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death within the United States and is associated with other health concerns such as obesity. Following a Mediterranean diet results in better vascular function than seen in people that do not follow this dietary pattern. The Mediterranean diet is linked to heart benefits even when people do not address co-occurring medical advice such as restricting caloric intake. Since heart health is of greater concern as people age, adopting a Mediterranean diet may increase general cardiovascular health, prolonging a high quality life.
Quality of life declines with age as biological processes slow and harmful processes speed up. One of the most general forms of aging involves cellular health. Rates of oxidative stress increase with age, disrupting normal biological processes. As people age, cell repair slows and the rate of cell damage outpaces cellular repair. DNA is also affected by aging. Telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes, begin to shrink. Shorter telomeres are related to poorer health in the elderly. However, some people age faster than others. Research into the variation of health quality associated with aging points toward the Mediterranean diet in reducing cellular signs of aging. People with a Mediterranean diet show longer telomere length, better cell longevity, and reduced oxidative stress than people following other dietary regimens. In other words, following the Mediterranean diet results in slowing the aging process.
The increased health outcomes associated with the Mediterranean diet is due to two important elements: antioxidants and monounsaturated fats. High levels of antioxidants help the body maintain telomere length. Antioxidants also combat free-radicals, problematic molecules that are produced naturally but have harmful effects. Like antioxidants, monounsaturated fats protect DNA. They are also involved in reducing inflammation. Continued research into the effects of diet on health and aging are consistent in their outcomes. The Mediterranean diet is associated with better health and a longer quality of life. While the Mediterranean diet does not ban certain food types it focuses on foods high in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. The United States has a high rate of coronary disease. Promoting a Mediterranean diet may improve health outcomes for the aging population.
Schwingshackl, L., Hoffman, G. (2014). Mediterranean dietary pattern, inflammation and endothelial function: A systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention trials. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 24: 929-939
Marín, C., Yubero-Serrano, E.M., López-Miranda, J., Pérez-Jiménez, F. (2013). Endothelial Aging Associated with Oxidative Stress Can Be Modulated by a Healthy Mediterranean Diet. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 14:8869-8889.
Betteridge, D.J. (2000). What is Oxidative Stress? Metabolism, 49:S3-S8.
Boccardi, V., Esposito, A., Rizzo, M. R., Marfella, R., Barbieri, M., & Paolisso, G. (2013). Mediterranean Diet, Telomere Maintenance and Health Status among Elderly. Plos ONE, 8:1-6.