How Does What We Eat Affect Our Healthspan and Longevity? It’s a Complex Dynamic System


Summary: The study sheds new light on how normal variations in dietary habits affect human aging, longevity and overall health.

Source: University of Columbia

According to a new study from the Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, the answer to a relatively succinct question — how does our diet affect our aging — is inevitably complex.

While most analyzes have looked at the impact 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 must be viewed from the perspective of the balance of nutrient ensembles rather than optimizing a number of nutrients individually.

Until now, little was known about how normal variations in human dietary habits affect the aging process.

The results are published online in the journal BMC biology.

“Our ability to understand the problem has been complicated by the fact that both the diet and physiology of aging are highly complex, multidimensional and involve a large number of functional interactions,” said Alan Cohen, PhD, associate professor of environmental health sciences at the Columbia Mailman School.

“Thus, this study further supports the importance of looking beyond ‘one nutrient at a time,’ as the one answer to the age-old question of how to live long and healthy lives fits all.”

Cohen also points out that the results are also consistent with numerous studies that highlight the need for increased protein intake in older people, particularly to offset sarcopenia and decreased physical capacity associated with age.

Using multidimensional modeling techniques to test the effects of nutrient intake on physiological dysregulation in older adults, researchers identified key patterns of specific nutrients associated with minimal biological aging.

“Our approach provides a roadmap for future studies to explore the full complexity of the nutritional aging landscape,” noted Cohen, who is also a associate of the Butler Columbia Aging Center.

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Researchers analyzed data from 1,560 elderly men and women, ages 67 to 84, randomly selected between November 2003 and June 2005 from the Montreal, Laval, or Sherbrooke areas of Quebec, Canada, and re-examined annually for three years and then followed up became four years to assess at large scale how nutrient intake is related to the aging process.

Aging and age-related loss of homeostasis (physiological dysregulation) were quantified by integrating blood biomarkers. The effects of diet used the diet geometric framework applied to macronutrients and 19 micronutrients/nutrient subclasses.

The researchers fitted a series of eight models that examined different dietary predictors and adjusted for income, education level, age, physical activity level, number of comorbidities, gender and current smoking status.

Four broad patterns were observed:

  • The optimal level of nutrient intake was dependent on the aging metric used. Increased protein intake improved/depressed some parameters of aging, while increased carbohydrate levels improved/depressed others;
  • There have been cases where mean nutrient levels performed well for many outcomes (ie arguing against a simple more/less perspective is better);
  • There is a wide tolerance for nutrient intake patterns that do not deviate too much from the norm (“homeostatic plateaus”).
  • The optimal level of one nutrient often depends on the level of another (e.g. vitamin E and vitamin C). Simpler analytical approaches are not sufficient to capture such associations.

The research team also developed an interactive tool that allows users to explore how different combinations of micronutrients affect different aspects of aging.

This shows fruits and vegetables
Using multidimensional modeling techniques to test the effects of nutrient intake on physiological dysregulation in older adults, researchers identified key patterns of specific nutrients associated with minimal biological aging. The image is in the public domain

The results of this study are consistent with previous experimental work in mice showing that a high-protein diet may accelerate aging earlier in life but is beneficial in older age.

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“These results are not experimental and need to be validated in other contexts. Specific findings, such as the importance of combining vitamin E and vitamin C, may not be replicable in other studies.

“But the qualitative finding that there are no simple answers to optimal nutrition will likely endure: it was evident in nearly all of our analyzes from a variety of approaches, and is consistent with evolutionary principles and much previous work,” Cohen said .

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This shows a brain

Co-authors are Alistair M. Senior, David Raubenheimer and Stephen J. Simpson, University of Sydney; Véronique Legault and Francis B. Lavoie, University of Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada; Nancy Presse and Valérie Turcot, CIUSSS-de-l’Estrie-CHUS, Sherbrooke, Canada; l’Institut Universitaire de Gériatrie de Montréal, Montréal, Canada, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Canada; Pierrette Gaudreau, Université de Montreal, Montreal, Canada; David G. Le Couteur, University of Sydney and Aging and Alzheimers Institute and ANZAC Research Institute, Concord Hospital, New South Wales, Australia.

Financing: The study was supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC DECRA: DE180101520), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grants 153011 and 62842; as well as grants from the Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ) Grant #2020-VICO-279753, Quebec Network for Research on Aging.

About this diet and news from aging research

Author: Stephanie Berger
Source: University of Columbia
Contact: Stephanie Berger—Columbia University
Picture: The image is in the public domain

Original research: Open access.
“Multidimensional associations between nutrient intake and healthy aging in humans” by Alan Cohen et al. BMC biology


abstract

Multidimensional associations between nutrient intake and healthy aging in humans

background

Little is known about how normal variations in human dietary habits affect the aging process. To date, most analyzes of the problem have used a one-dimensional paradigm that looks at the impact of a single nutrient on a single outcome. Perhaps our ability to understand the problem has been complicated by the fact that both nutrition and the physiology of aging are highly complex, multidimensional and involve a large number of functional interactions. Here we apply the multidimensional geometric framework for diet to biological aging data from 1560 older adults tracked over four years to assess at large scale how nutrient intake is related to the aging process.

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Results

Aging and age-related loss of homeostasis (physiological dysregulation) were quantified by integrating blood biomarkers. The effects of diet were modeled using the diet geometric framework applied to macronutrients and 19 micronutrients/nutrient subclasses. We observed four general patterns: (1) The optimal level of nutrient intake was dependent on the aging metric used. Increased protein intake improved/depressed some parameters of aging, while increased carbohydrate levels improved/depressed others; (2) there were non-linearities where mean nutrient levels performed well for many outcomes (ie, arguing against a simple more/less perspective is better); (3) There is a wide tolerance for nutrient intake patterns that do not deviate too much from norms (“homeostatic plateaus”). (4) The optimal level of one nutrient often depends on the level of another (e.g. vitamin E and vitamin C). Simpler linear/univariate analysis approaches are not sufficient to capture such associations. We present an interactive tool to examine the results in the high-dimensional feeding space.

Conclusion

Using multidimensional modeling techniques to test the effects of nutrient intake on physiological dysregulation in an elderly population, we identified key patterns of specific nutrients associated with minimal biological aging. Our approach provides a roadmap for future studies to explore the full complexity of the dietary aging landscape.



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