Thursday, December 04, 2014
The Mediterranean myth again
For years health freaks have been claiming that a Mediterranean diet increases your lifespan. So how come Australians are one of the world's longest-lived groups (longer than any Mediterraneans) and yet traditionally live on a diet that is just about opposite to a Mediterranean one?
A traditional breakfast often includes fried bacon and eggs -- and steak and eggs was pretty common once too, particularly in country areas. Lunch is big on hamburgers, beef pies and sausage rolls (which often ooze fat). Dinner consists of "meat and 3 veg" -- meaning various forms of red meat, usually fried, plus boiled vegetables. All accompanied by bread and butter and followed by sugary desserts.
And the result? Almost all Australian families have (or have had) a nonagenerian tottering around among them -- after having lived all their lives on the diet I have described. Japan has its centenarians. Australia has legions of nonagenarians. And the result in both cases is long and roughly comparable average lifespans.
The Australian diet has of course changed in recent years but not perhaps as much as one might think. I asked one of my young stepdaughters last night what she mostly cooked for dinner. She promptly replied "meat and 3 veg". So both her kids and her husband could live to 90!
So what is the foundation of the claims below? It follows the unfortunate precedent set by Ancel Keys long ago. It looks at just part of the picture rather than the whole. Keys showed that Mediterraneans have much less frequent heart attacks but forgot to look at other causes of death
The Harvard galoots below looked at telomere length only, which is even more specific than what Keys did. There is indeed some correlation between telomere length and lifespan but it is miles short of a 1 to 1 relationship -- leaving plenty of room for other factors to come into play -- including "meat and 3 veg"!
A Mediterranean diet increases life expectancy by protecting the DNA from damage, research shows
Harvard academics studied 4,676 middle-aged women comparing their typical eating habits with the make-up of their cells.
Importantly, they looked at their telomeres – biological caps which are found at the ends of chromosomes that protect the DNA inside.
As we get older, our telomeres get progressively shorter, causing the DNA to become damaged and raising the odds of age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer' s, diabetes and heart disease.
The research – published in the BMJ – found that women whose diets were generally low in fat and high in fruit and veg had longer telomeres.
But this was even more pronounced for those who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit, veg, nuts and pulses.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).