How does what we eat affect our lifespan on earth? Researchers from Columbia University describe this relatively simple question as one with a rather complex answer. 

Before now, the popular approach to understanding the effects of diet on health and aging, specifically when it comes to nutrition, has been tied to single nutrients or some eating habits to achieve a certain health outcome. For instance, taking just oranges amidst a wide variety of other healthy meal options. 

A new study, however, suggests people look beyond consuming only one nutrient at a time or the repetitious consumption of a particular food in a higher amount (believing the more the better). The team rather goes on to highlight the importance of putting together a balanced series of nutrients to vary the dietary pattern and encourage healthy aging.

Importantly, this is the first study to gauge the effects of a diet rich in many nutrients on aging. The researchers set out to determine how intake of a varied diet full of nutritive value could have an impact on the aging process. 

Methodology

The study uses a couple of multidimensional modeling techniques to investigate the link between nutrient intake and physiological dysregulation in a population of elderly people. Researchers looked at data from the Quebec Longitudinal Study on Nutrition and Successful Ageing and randomly picked a total of 1,560 old adults. All of which consisted of both men and women in the age range of 67 to 84 years.

The participants were constantly examined every year for three years to gather information on their lifestyles and sociodemographics. On top of that, they were given a diet thrice a day for a week. Then, with the help of the 24-h diet recall, researchers could interview and collect information on the energy and nutrients consumed by the participants every 24 hours. This was done over a 4-year follow-up period to properly assess on a larger scale, how nutrient intake is tied to the aging process.

To measure aging and age-related loss of homeostasis in the participants, blood markers were included. Also, with the geometric framework for nutrition, the team was able to replicate the diet effect along with macronutrients and 19 micronutrients. Thereafter, the researchers used a series of 8 models to examine factors that could influence nutrition. They took into account factors such as income, age, level of schooling, physical activity, number of comorbidities, present smoking status, and sex. 

Results

As it turned out, the study authors discovered the 4 broad patterns below:

The ideal level of nutrient intake was heavily dependent on the aging metric used. An increase in protein consumption was found to improve or weaken some aging parameters. Meanwhile, increased levels of carbohydrates improved or weakened others.

There were instances where intermediate levels of nutrients were found to do well for several results.

A large tolerance for nutrient intake patterns that don’t shift a lot from norms (homeostatic plateaus) was observed.

Two nutrients often depend on each other for optimal function. E.g Vitamin C and Vitamin E. 

Luckily, the study authors reveal an interactive tool one can use to easily observe how micronutrients work together to influence different stages of the aging process.

The researchers go on to refer to the theory of mice living a longer life while displaying improved cardiometabolic health when placed on a low-protein high carbohydrate meal, compared to other animals placed on higher protein or fat meals. The team applies the same theory to how high protein diets can hasten aging in middle-aged people and is yet, highly beneficial to older adults.

Their findings are, however, in line with prior studies supporting the need to up the intake of protein in older adults; especially to prevent conditions that accompany aging such as sarcopenia, osteoporosis, etc as well as a decline in physical activity.

Since the results are not experimental, the authors concluded on the need to validate their findings as it doesn’t apply to other concepts.

“Our results advocate against the popular practice of eating to maximize or minimize certain nutrients,” the authors wrote. “Targeting in the absence of clear evidence is likely to do more harm than good”.

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