The results of the study highlight the importance of thinking about nutrition holistically.
According to recent research from the Butler Columbia Center on Aging at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, the answer to a seemingly simple question – how what we eat affects how we age – is inevitably complex.
While most analyzes focus on the effects of a single nutrient on a single outcome, a traditional, one-dimensional approach to understanding the effects of diet on health and aging no longer gives us the full picture. A healthy diet needs to be considered based on a balance of food groups rather than optimizing a set of nutrients individually. Until recently, little was understood about how naturally occurring dietary changes in humans affect aging. The findings were recently published in the journal BMC Biology.
Associate professor of environmental health Ph.D. “Because the physiology of both nutrition and aging is highly complex and multidimensional and involves many functional interactions, our ability to understand the issue has become complex,” said Alan Cohen. sciences at Columbia Mailman School.
“Therefore, this study provides further support for the importance of looking beyond ‘one nutrient at a time,’ as it is a one-size-fits-all answer to the age-old question of how to live a long and healthy life.”
Cohen also notes that the findings are consistent with other studies that show the need for higher protein consumption in older people, particularly to counter sarcopenia and the decreased physical performance associated with aging.
Using multidimensional modeling tools to investigate the effect of nutrient intake on physiological dysregulation in older adults, the researchers identified key patterns of certain nutrients associated with minimal biological aging.
“Our approach provides a roadmap for future work to explore the full complexity of the nutrition-aging landscape,” said Cohen, who is also affiliated with the Butler Columbia Center on Aging.
The researchers analyzed data from 1560 elderly men and women aged 67-84 years randomly selected between November 2003 and June 2005 from the Montreal, Laval or Sherbrooke counties in Quebec, Canada. Four years to broadly assess how nutrient intake relates to the aging process.
Aging and age-related loss of homeostasis (physiological dysregulation) were measured through the integration of blood biomarkers. Effects of diet used the geometric framework for nutrition applied to macronutrients and 19 micronutrient/nutrient subclasses. The researchers created a series of eight models that explored different dietary determinants and adjusted for income, education level, age, physical activity, number of comorbidities, gender, and current smoking status.
Four broad patterns were observed:
- The optimal level of nutrient intake depended on the aging metric used. High protein intake improved/suppressed some aging parameters, while high carbohydrate levels improved/suppressed others;
- There were instances where intermediate nutrients performed well for most outcomes (ie opposing a simple more/less is better perspective);
- There is a wide tolerance for nutrient intake patterns that do not deviate too much from the norm (“homeostatic plateaus”).
- Optimal levels of one nutrient often depend on the levels of the other (eg, vitamin E and vitamin C). Simpler analytical approaches are insufficient to capture such relationships.
The research team also developed an interactive tool that allows users to explore how different combinations of micronutrients affect different aspects of aging.
The results of this study are consistent with previous experimental studies in mice, which showed that high-protein diets can accelerate aging early in life but are beneficial later in life.
“These results are not experimental and will need to be validated in other contexts. Specific findings, such as the prominence of the combination of vitamin E and vitamin C, may not be replicated in other studies. However, the qualitative finding that optimal nutrition does not have simple answers will likely hold true: This was evident in nearly all of our analyzes from a wide variety of approaches. and it was consistent with evolutionary principles and many previous studies,” he said.
Reference: “Multidimensional relationships between nutritional intake and healthy aging in humans”, by Alistair M. Senior, Véronique Legault, Francis B. Lavoie, Nancy Presse, Pierrette Gaudreau, Valérie Turcot, David Raubenheimer, David G. Le Couteur, Stephen J. Simpson and Alan A. Cohen, September 1, 2022 BMC Biology.
The study was funded by the Australian Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Quebec Research Fund (FRQ), and the Quebec Aging Research Network.