Mediterranean Diet May Slow Aging Process, Say Researchers

Patricia Ramirez

According to the NU-AGE project, funded by the EU, following a Mediterranean diet could slow down the aging process. Researchers announced their findings at a recent Brussels conference, telling those in attendance that adhering to the NU-AGE Mediterranean-style diet measurably decreased the levels of a particular protein. The protein, known in the scientific community as C-reactive protein, is one of the primary inflammatory markers known to be associated with aging. In addition, participants in the study with osteoporosis saw a marked reduction in their rate of bone loss.

Yet to be analyzed by the Mediterranean diet study are other aging-related parameters, such as heart health, digestive health, and insulin resistance.

According to researchers, this is the first study of its kind to look into the Mediterranean diet's anti-aging properties in such depth. The study focused primarily on the anti-aging impacts of the Mediterranean diet on seniors. Professor Claudio Franceschi, who coordinated the project from the University of Bologna, summed up the research.

"We are using the most powerful and advanced techniques including metabolomics, transcriptomics, genomics and the analysis of the gut microbiota to understand what effect the Mediterranean-style diet has on the population of over 65 years old."

In addition to the myriad of observable physical and biological differences between the Mediterranean diet study volunteers, the NU-AGE researchers also considered several socio-economic variables. These included health information, food choices, and other factors know to be "significant barriers" to the quality of a person's diet. During the Mediterranean diet research project, scientists found that there were substantive differences between more than just biological and genetic traits when participants from different countries were compared to one another. For example, overall nutrition knowledge among volunteers varied greatly depending upon their country of origin. More than 70 percent of those in the U.K. and France felt as though they had "high nutrition knowledge." In Poland, however, only 31 percent of volunteers felt the same.

Researchers also found that when their elderly volunteers shopped for food, their nationality could predict certain differences in their consideration of food labels. As in, "what is important to a person in France may not be important to a person in Italy."

Understanding and trust of nutritional information also varied substantially from country to country, report Mediterranean diet researchers. Overall, volunteers hailing from the Netherlands and the U.K. seemed to have the most comprehensive understanding of nutritional labels, while Poland and Italy lagged behind. Italian Mediterranean diet research volunteers trusted claims on food labels at a rate of 40 percent; among U.K. volunteers, that trust rate was only 20 percent.

The Mediterranean diet, according to the Mayo Clinic, is already known to be incredibly heart-healthy. It incorporates whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish and very few unhealthy fats or red meats. Those who follow the Mediterranean diet often replace butter with olive oil and can even occasionally imbibe with a glass of red wine. It's named after the Mediterranean Sea, where the cooking style and many of the diet's staples are known to have originated.

Professor Claudio Franceschi described the recent NU-AGE conference as being "a great success," lauding the researchers' excitement over their discovery of the anti-aging properties of the Mediterranean diet and promising future work on the project.

[Image Courtesy Of YuliiaHolovchenko/Shutterstock]