There is a war going on in your body every minute of every day. Everything you eat, drink, breathe, do and think can take a toll on your health.
You see, certain foods, chemicals and even bodily functions create free radicals. These are inflammatory agents that cause oxidation within your body. And oxidation has been associated with many age-related diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, Parkinson’s and even cancer.
As these cellular “bad guys” wreak havoc on your cells, your body fights back with a secret weapon — a tumor suppression protein called p53. Affectionately known as the “guardian of the genome,” p53 regulates your cells, helping to prevent cell mutation and DNA damage due to things like oxidation.
This amazing protein has a mind of its own. When it senses a cell or cells in distress, it quickly monitors the situation. If the cell is merely damaged, it works to repair the DNA. But if the cell is beyond repair, p53 initiates apoptosis (cell death) and eliminates the damaged cells.
In this way, p53 is engaged in a never-ending dance with oxidation as it works to keep your body and DNA safe. So what if there was something you could do to help this little warrior out? Something that would make its job easier by cutting down on the amount of oxidation in your body?
Turns out, Spanish researchers wondered the same thing. They set out to determine if eating a certain kind of diet, paired with an effective antioxidant, could help reduce oxidative stress and, in turn, the myriad of diseases associated with oxidation.
Eating Like a Greek
The Mediterranean diet has long been associated with heart health. This type of diet includes very few processed (i.e., packaged) foods. Instead, it focuses on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, fish, nuts, and olives and olive oil.
Compare that to the standard American diet, which tends to feature high-calorie, salty and sugary foods. Many of these are highly processed and high in saturated fats.
Given this stark contrast, researchers from Sofia University Hospital, at the University of Cordoba in Spain, set out to determine if the quality of the fat from a person’s diet could affect the oxidation of their DNA.
The First of Its Kind
In addition to comparing the effects of the Mediterranean diet and the standard American diet (appropriately called SAD), the researchers wanted to check one more thing — if the addition of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) could boost oxidative protection.
CoQ10 is a fat-soluble compound found in every plant and animal cell. It has a very special relationship with your mitochondria, your cells’ energy factories. The mitochondria have many functions, one of which is to produce 95 percent of your body’s ATP, the active, readily available form of energy. The mitochondria also play a vital role in cell metabolism.
As an essential component of the mitochondria, CoQ10 has a unique capacity to transfer an ionic charge across membranes, which, in turn, drives the production of ATP. Without CoQ10, the body cannot survive.
Given this, the researchers then decided to add yet another layer to their research. Seems that many studies have been done on diets, and on CoQ10 and oxidation, but no human, crossover, randomized, controlled studies had been done. And none had tested oxidant levels after eating (versus after fasting). So, the researchers set up a randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover study with 20 patients (10 men, 10 women), all of whom were over age 65.
Three different diet scenarios were set up, all of which were followed for four weeks each. The first included a Mediterranean diet that consisted of 15 percent protein, 47 percent carbohydrates, and 38 percent fat. The fats were broken down into monounsaturated from olive oil (24 percent), saturated (10 percent), and polyunsaturated (4 percent). This group also took a placebo capsule, so they would not know if they were in the CoQ10 group or not.
The second was the same Mediterranean diet with the addition of 200 mg of CoQ10 a day in capsule form.
The third was a standard American diet with 15 percent protein, 47 percent carbohydrate, and 38 percent fat… same as the Mediterranean diet. Where these two differed was in the fat distribution. The SAD diet had 22 percent saturated fat, with 12 percent monounsaturated and 4 percent polyunsaturated.
All participants ate all three diets, all for four weeks each, for a total study period of 12 weeks. In this way, all participants ate all three diets, which researchers reasoned allowed the people to act as their own control in terms of adherence.
Diet Clearly Matters
The results were quite amazing. In terms of DNA damage, the Mediterranean diet produced less damage than the SAD diet. And the addition of CoQ10 to the Mediterranean diet reduced damage even more.
Also, after the SAD diet, there was an increase in p53, meaning that it was called in to offset oxidation and potential damage to DNA. However, there was no increase after eating the Mediterranean diet, with or without CoQ10 supplementation.
The only difference here was that p53 levels were actually lower after the Mediterranean diet plus CoQ10 supplementation. This means the p53 wasn’t needed, which is a good thing.
Researchers concluded, “Consumption of a Mediterranean diet protects DNA from oxidative damage and that this protection is enhanced by supplementing with CoQ.” They go on to say, “This model could provide a suitable therapy for processes that lead to a rise in oxidative stress, such as cardiovascular or neurodegenerative diseases and aging.”
Once again, science shows that dietary changes are the key to great health. To help prevent oxidation, DNA damage and premature aging, give the Mediterranean diet a try.
You will want to include lots of the following foods every day:
- Olives and olive oil
And to really up your oxidation protection, add 200 mg of CoQ10 a day. You can find CoQ10 in health food stores and organic food markets.
Remember, as this study shows, there is no magic bullet when it comes to healthy aging. By eating right, taking well-researched supplements, and getting daily moderate exercise, you’ll find the “fountain of youth” has been within your grasp all along.
 Fito M et al. Effect of a traditional Mediterranean diet on lipoprotein oxidation: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(11):1195–1203.
 Gutierrez-Mariscal, FM et al. Mediterranean diet supplemented with coenzyme Q10 induces postprandial changes in p53 in response to oxidative DNA damage in elderly subjects. Age (Dordr). 2011 Mar 15. [Epub ahead of print].