The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes and heart-healthy fats and greater adherence to such a diet is associated with longer telomeres, the biomarkers of ageing, the findings showed.

"To our knowledge this is the largest population-based study specifically addressing the association between Mediterranean diet adherence and telomere length in healthy, middle-aged women," said Immaculata De Vivo, an associate professor at the Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in US.

Telomeres are repetitive DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes that get shorter every time a cell divides.

Shorter telomeres have been associated with decreased life-expectancy and increased risk of ageing-related disease, while longer telomeres have been linked with longevity.

"Our results further support the benefits of adherence to this diet to promote health and longevity," De Vivo added.

The study involved 4,676 disease-free women. The researchers found that a greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet, and even small changes in diet, were associated with longer telomeres.

The study was published online in The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).

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