Living for Longevity: A Mediterranean Diet-Based Approach
We always hear the phrase “life is short,” but what if we could make a few simple changes to live longer? Finding longevity and living a healthy life may be more accessible than previously imagined. Lifestyle and nutrition impact the likelihood of developing a chronic disease and how severe it becomes5. Making educated choices regarding how we choose to live, from what is on the dinner table to our after-work self-care, may affect our quality of life. In the busy world that many of us live in, it may be challenging to keep up. Sometimes, we go against what we know is good for our health. Unhealthy habits may increase the likelihood of developing new risk factors for various disease states2. Before we discuss the positive lifestyle modifications you can make, let’s talk science.
Chronic Disease, Inflammation & Mortality
Research has been conducted to further understand the mechanisms surrounding chronic disease, as well as chronic inflammation. Biomarkers, or a “signal” or “tag” within the body, can be used to identify sources of inflammation, and what outcomes might occur due to the inflammation3. Inflammatory responses are typically immune-mediated, as our bodies react to what it sees as a pathogen. In modern society and among the busy lives of many, certain foods we consume can be seen as a threat to our immune systems3.
Foods high in sodium5, refined grains, trans fatty acids, alcohol, and emulsifiers (ultra-processed products) are linked to increased chronic inflammation3. It isn’t always what is included in diets that may cause harm, but also what is excluded. Dietary habits consistently excluding whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds can increase the risk of chronic disease5. Preparing meals at high temperatures with low humidity has been found to increase appetite and the risk of overeating, causing obesity, which can also exacerbate chronic inflammation3.
Pro-inflammatory biomarkers have been linked to both chronic disease states and mortality. In addition, systemic chronic inflammation (SCI) could be correlated to the increasing rise of disease. Biomarkers such as B-cells and T-cell subsets have been used to predict the trajectory of one’s immune aging3. What this all means is that those fighting chronic diseases may also struggle with SCI, and have a shorter expectation for longevity.
Mediterranean Diet Overview
The Mediterranean Diet, or MedDiet, can be traced back to populations in Southern Europe. The environment offered an abundance of olive trees, potentially leading to the population having a low incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), as discovered in the 1950’s2. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) became the center of the MedDiet6. Other than olives, meals included wide variations of seasonal fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, dairy, and limited portions of sweets, red meat, and eggs. Overall, the diet is found to be rich in monounsaturated fats and fibers1. Aside from what filled the stomachs of this population, a wide variety of lifestyle habits filled their time. This included preparing and consuming food with others, daily moderate exercise, and getting adequate rest2. The MedDiet certainly involves more than a diet, but rather a way of life.
MedDiet Health Benefits
So why do researchers believe the MedDiet is so good for health? Certain foods within the MedDiet contain bioactive antioxidants that may aid in reducing oxidative stress in the body. In addition, there may be a correlation between disease/health outcomes and dietary inflammatory index (DII). The DII is essentially a way to measure how “inflammatory” a food is to your body. It was found that an increased adherence to the MedDiet and decreased DII are correlated to a lower rate of mortality in patients with CHD and CVD2. EVOO, being a major component in the MedDiet, plays its own role in achieving longevity6. Oxidative stress can trigger the NF-κB (transcription factors regulating gene expression) pathway leading to upstream inflammation. EVOO (and its antioxidant properties) has been found to modulate the NF-κB pathway, reducing pathway signaling and thus inflammation6. In a separate study comparing the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the MedDiet, those who strictly adhered to the MedDiet were found to have lower levels of interleukin 17A (IL-17A)4. IL-17A an inflammatory marker associated with autoimmune diseases. The abundance of fiber within the MedDiet has also been found to decrease the risk of mortality and cardiovascular events1.
Wrapping it Up
Overall, the MedDiet offers individuals a wide variety of food and everyday habits. It isn’t a diet alone, but a holistic lifestyle. Foods rich in antioxidants, monounsaturated fats, and soluble fiber work in a symphony to support our health. Fueling our bodies efficiently can aid in decreasing symptoms associated with chronic disease as well as decrease the risk of developing further systemic diseases.
America’s Test Kitchen:
This website offers access to a list of recipes, as well as further information regarding how to mold your lifestyle around the MedDiet. There is also a book for purchase with a wide variety of recipes.
This post was written by Hailey Selders, Pharmacy Student University of Findlay and edited by Lindsey Dalton, PharmD.
- Calabrese CM, Valentini A, Calabrese G. Gut Microbiota and Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus: The Effect of Mediterranean Diet. Frontiers in nutrition. 2021;7:612773. doi:10.3389/fnut.2020.612773
- Dominguez LJ, Di Bella G, Veronese N, Barbagallo M. Impact of Mediterranean Diet on Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases and Longevity. Nutrients. 2021;13(6). doi:10.3390/nu13062028
- Furman D, Campisi J, Verdin E, et al. Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. Nature medicine. 2019;25(12):1822-1832. doi:10.1038/s41591-019-0675-0
- Sakhaei R, Shahvazi S, Mozaffari-Khosravi H, et al. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)-Style Diet and an Alternative Mediterranean Diet are Differently Associated with Serum Inflammatory Markers in Female Adults. Food and nutrition bulletin. 2018;39(3):361-376. doi:10.1177/0379572118783950
- Santos L. The impact of nutrition and lifestyle modification on health. European journal of internal medicine. 2022;97:18-25. doi:10.1016/j.ejim.2021.09.020
- Serreli G, Deiana M. Extra Virgin Olive Oil Polyphenols: Modulation of Cellular Pathways Related to Oxidant Species and Inflammation in Aging. Cells. 2020;9(2). doi:10.3390/cells9020478