Telomeres are caps at the end of chromosomes that offer protection to chromosomes. Research has identified an association between telomeres and ageing, in that as we age, telomeres become shorter and have less coating.
This has led researchers to suggest that as telomeres shorten, cells are less able to reproduce safely, which may cause our tissue to deteriorate and eventually die. People have thus begun to search for things that might slow the process of telomeres reducing in length, with the intent of potentially being able to slow down the ageing process.
Researchers have investigated the relationship between lifestyle and telomere shortening over time. Inflammation and oxidative stress are two factors associated with increased rates of telomere shortening. This has led researchers to hypothesise that lifestyle factors, such as specific dietary patterns, that act to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress might positively influence telomere length.
Researchers reviewed studies that collected information on both dietary patterns and telomere length. From the 17 studies that they reviewed, researchers found that both a Mediterranean style diet and diets high in fruits and vegetables were associated with longer telomere length. Conversely, diets high in refined grains, processed meats and sugar-laden beverages were associated with shorter telomere length.
The body of research into telomeres is constantly growing. A Mediterranean diet and a diet high in fruits and vegetables is the cornerstone of many dietary guidelines. More research is likely required to confirm whether a healthy diet can improve telomere length however, in the meantime, there are many other health benefits to be gained from adhering to a healthy and nourishing diet.
Reference: Ra e N et al. Dietary patterns, food groups and telomere length: a systematic review of current studies. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition Epub online July 17, 2016. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2016.149.