Eating for Healthy Aging – Horizon Magazine Blog
In 2021, more than a fifth of the EU population was aged 65 and over. Current demographic trends suggest that there will be 130 million Europeans aged over 65 by 2050. By 2040, according to the World Health Organization, the global population aged 65 and over will exceed 1.3 billion.
Increasing life expectancy brings its own challenges, such as increasing physical and mental impairments. Age-related illnesses like cancer, mental and physical decline are not uncommon. Overall, the rapid aging of the population places costly demands on struggling health systems.
“Changes in nutrition and lifestyle are by far the most cost-effective ways to promote healthy aging at the population level,” said Dr. Hermann Stuppner, department head at the Faculty of Chemistry and pharmacy at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.
Dr. Stuppner developed the project MediHealthwho drew inspiration from the Mediterranean diet among other eating habits around the world, to understand which plants help us age better.
The Mediterranean region, particularly Crete, has long been associated with low rates of coronary heart disease (CHD), breast and colon cancer. Some scientists attribute this to the high consumption of olive oil, which is the main source of dietary fat.
The MediHealth project selected plants from Greece, Vietnam, South Africa, Tunisia and Chile. Ultimately, only the small, wild green Cichorium spinosum known as spiny chicory was chosen as an ingredient in a competitive new nutraceutical product.
A nutraceutical is a food product that provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease.
Dr. Stuppner is delighted that “the beneficial effects of a healthy diet are widely recognized and recognized worldwide”. But, he points out, the majority of food plants have not even been studied and their benefits are still unknown.
The MediHealth project operated with a unique structure that brought together 13 different groups of experts from both academia and industry. They created and analyzed metabolites that mimic the processing of plant extracts by the human digestive system.
Scientists wanted to know if these could stop age-related decline. This would produce a solid scientific basis for the development of new products to combat the effects of aging.
Dr. Stuppner explains that this strategy of sharing between multidisciplinary teams “helps to increase scientific interest in research on natural products”. Despite the deep collaborations, some questions remained unanswered. This is why the MediHealth partners continued to work together after the project ended in 2019.
It is a perspective to be welcomed. “There are undoubtedly new results to be expected,” said Dr. Stuppner, “with respect to new natural products, their pharmacological activity, their mechanisms of action and their impact on healthy aging.”
Old but independent
Older people may need, on average, more protein than younger people. Inadequate protein intake in the elderly is a cause for concern. the Independent study examined the impact of protein-based diets on disability in aging Europeans and Americans.
“The way a person wants to age varies from person to person,” said Nuno Mendonça of Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal, who participated in the research. “However, and in general, older people are more concerned with being able to remain independent and go about their daily activities than simply prolonging life expectancy without quality of life.”
The emergence of a disability can be gradual or sudden after a significant stressful event, Mendonça explained.
“Good nutrition”, which provides a person with all the necessary nutrients according to their gender, age and state of health, goes hand in hand with physical activity when it comes to resisting diseases related to at the age. Together they tend to prevent muscle decline that can lead to disability.
The project analyzed data from four large studies in Europe and North America. INDEPENDEnt’s findings add to the evidence that a sustained and adequate intake of protein over time can slow the aging process.
The result was not unexpected. “Good nutrition plays a very important role in prevention,” Mendonca said. “Adequate protein intake appears to be effective in preventing incident-related disability.”
Much remains to be understood, such as protein requirements under specific conditions in the elderly. There are questions about the differences, if any, between protein sources and the role of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. There is still some controversy over increasing protein dietary recommendations for healthy older adults, despite broad consensus within the scientific community.
These and other studies may inform the development of new dietary protein guidelines for older adults and public health interventions. As a follow-up, the team is planning a new project called IPHUNCTION to study the interaction between proteins and physical activity.
Age is inevitable, but diet and nutrition can hold the key to ensuring the aging process is healthy and positive.