Identifying simple strategies to prevent or delay age-associated pathologies is a major public health concern. Attrition of telomeres, chromatin structures that help maintain genome stability, leads to cell death or senescence. Thus telomere length is a reliable hallmark of biological aging and the risk of developing age-related chronic diseases through common oxidation and inflammation mechanisms. Variability in telomere shortening that is independent of chronological age suggests that it is a modifiable factor, which may be explained in part by lifestyle variables such as smoking, adiposity, physical exercise, and diet. Here we summarize data from published studies focused on nutrition (nutrients, foods, and dietary patterns) and telomere length. Research on the topic is incipient and most data comes from epidemiologic studies, often cross-sectional in design. Consistent with well-known evidence of benefit or harm for chronic age-related diseases, dietary antioxidants and consumption of antioxidant-rich, plant-derived foods help maintain telomere length. In contrast, total and saturated fat intake and consumption of refined flour cereals, meat and meat products, and sugar-sweetened beverages relate to shorter telomeres. Data on alcohol and dairy products is controversial. There is evidence that adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with longer telomeres. Randomized clinical trials are limited to seafood-derived long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, with promising results. To fill the many gaps in our knowledge of the aging process and confirm nutrition as a useful tool to counteract biological aging more research is warranted, particularly observational studies using repeated measurements of telomere length and randomized trials of foods and dietary patterns with sequential telomere analyses.
Keywords: Aging; Epidemiologic studies; Mediterranean diet.
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