Mediterranean diet leads to a longer life for women, 25-year study reveals

By Chris Melore

Ladies, if you’re looking to add years to your life, it might be time to embrace the Mediterranean diet. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital have found wide-ranging benefits from sticking with this popular diet, including lowering the chances of dying from heart disease and cancer.

The findings, in a nutshell:

A groundbreaking study published in JAMA followed more than 25,000 American women for an impressive 25 years and found that those who stuck closely to this eating pattern had a 23% lower risk of dying from any cause. Interestingly, the diet seemed to offer even more protection against cancer deaths than heart problems.

What’s the secret behind this life-extending meal? Researchers dug deep into the women’s blood samples and discovered it’s not just about lowering cholesterol. Instead, the Mediterranean diet’s power lies in its ability to improve a variety of health markers. It reduces inflammation in the body (think of it as turning down the heat on internal swelling), balances blood fats, enhances insulin function (helping your body manage sugar better), and even helps maintain a healthy weight. In simpler terms, this diet doesn’t just target one aspect of health; it gives your entire body a tune-up.

The diet’s benefits were so significant that even women who only moderately followed it saw an 8% lower risk of dying. It’s like getting a health bonus just for making a few better food choices! This study shows that the Mediterranean diet isn’t just a passing trend; it’s a scientifically backed path to a longer, healthier life.

“The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are recognized by medical professionals, and our study offers insights into why the diet may be so beneficial. Public health policies should promote the healthful dietary attributes of the Mediterranean diet and should discourage unhealthy adaptations,” says senior author Samia Mora, MD, a cardiologist and the director of the Center for Lipid Metabolomics at the Brigham in a media release.

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How did researchers discover the diet’s benefits?

To uncover these life-extending secrets, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital recruited over 25,000 female health professionals from across the United States, all over the age of 45. This diverse group included White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic women, ensuring the findings would apply broadly.

The study began in the early ’90s, with each woman filling out detailed questionnaires about her eating habits. Researchers used this info to score how closely each participant followed the Mediterranean diet. A higher score meant more vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil, with less red meat and moderate wine consumption.

However, the researchers didn’t stop at diet surveys. They also took blood samples from each woman, turning their lab into a high-tech detective agency. Using advanced techniques like nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (think of it as a super-powered MRI for blood), they analyzed 33 different biomarkers. These tiny molecules in the blood tell stories about inflammation, fat levels, and insulin function — giving a comprehensive picture of each woman’s health.

For the next quarter-century, the team kept meticulous records. They tracked who passed away and from what causes, gathering data from death certificates, medical records, and family reports. This thorough approach ensured they didn’t miss a single detail.

When they crunched all the numbers in 2023, the results were clear: women who ate more like they were living on a Greek island tended to live longer. However, the real breakthrough came when they matched this longevity with the blood test results. This detective work revealed that the Mediterranean diet doesn’t just lower cholesterol (as many might guess); instead, it orchestrates a symphony of health improvements throughout the body.

“Our research provides significant public health insight: even modest changes in established risk factors for metabolic diseases—particularly those linked to small molecule metabolites, inflammation, triglyceride-rich lipoproteins, obesity, and insulin resistance—can yield substantial long-term benefits from following a Mediterranean diet. This finding underscores the potential of encouraging healthier dietary habits to reduce the overall risk of mortality,” explains lead author Shafqat Ahmad, PhD, an associate professor of Epidemiology at Uppsala University Sweden and a researcher in the Center for Lipid Metabolomics and the Division of Preventive Medicine at the Brigham.

Source: Study Finds

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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