Leukocyte telomere length (LTC) is considered a marker of biological aging (Gu, 2015). Telomeres are the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes and are sometimes compared to the plastic caps on shoelaces. Each time one of our cells divide, the telomeres get shorter. When the telomeres get too short, the cell can no longer divide, which can lead to cell inactivity and death. One question scientists are trying to answer is can certain diets actually change telomere length? There is some recent research that may be paving the way to an answer.
For example, in the bird population, it was recently discovered that female finches who were given a diet high in micronutrients showed reduced telomere loss. However, there was no effect on the telomere lengths of the male birds (Noguera et al., 2015).
In the human population, scientists recently looked at how the Mediterranean diet can impact the length of our telomeres. The Mediterranean diet typically includes more vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, unrefined grains, fish and olive oil. In a study among nurses, it was found that a healthy diet was associated with longer telomere lengths, but a greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet had an even greater impact (Crous-Bou, 2014). Others have recently come to similar conclusions, showing that a diet rich in vegetables was associated with longer telomere lengths (Gu, 2015).
Looking at specific markers to determine how our diet specifically impacts our biological aging is a relatively new and exciting science. There are still many questions to be answered, but the preliminary data is once again pointing to the importance of eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
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Tracy Davenport, Ph.D., is a freelance health writer and the C.E.O. of Tracy’s Smoothie Place. She serves as the expert on a weekly radio show about health and wellness and is the author of Making Life Better for a Baby with Acid Reflux and multiple articles about the cost of caregiving. Learn more about Tracy and what healthy living services and products she can offer on her website. She can also be found on Twitter and Instagram @drinksmoothies.