NUTRITION TO SLOW DOWN AGING AND PREVENT DISEASES

  • by: Fondazione Valter Longo Onlus Editorial Staff
  • July 5th, 2022

Since ancient times, philosophers and scientists have attributed an important role to nutrition for personal care and health. This is because the quality and frequency of the foods we consume influence our state of health or sickness. Today this is proven by abundant scientific evidence.

Acquiring awareness about our food choices, understanding how much, when and what to eat, is one of the most powerful, sure-fire, and effective ways of extending the body’s functional capabilities and slowing down aging.

Professor Valter Longo’s latest article, published in the prestigious “Cell” 1 journal, describes the Longevity Diet as the result of years of studies that consider various dietary aspects, from the composition of foods and calories consumed to the duration and frequency of the fasting periods, all analyzed in different living species starting from bacteria and working up to humans.

What emerged from these studies is that the increased activity of some hormones, factors, and genetic pathways caused by the intake of proteins or sugars are associated with accelerated aging and/or age-related diseases. However, continuous, intermittent, or periodic dietary intervention can regulate these pathways by generating effective coordinated responses against them both in the short and long term.

The analysis focused on evaluating popular diets such as total calorie restriction, the high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet, vegetarian and vegan diets, and the Mediterranean diet.

A slight caloric restriction, which generally coincides with a reduction in sugar, starch, saturated fat, and protein intake, is effective in promoting longevity as it encourages regeneration and protection processes in the body. These mechanisms, which appear to be the same as those associated with fasting, allow for reduced inflammation at a systemic level and help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, and tumors2.

The ketogenic diet and other low-carbohydrate diets have also been studied for a long time in humans: compared to a balanced diet, they do not appear to be more effective in regulating the body mass index (BMI), cholesterol and fat levels in the blood, as confirmed in a recent meta-analysis that examined low-calorie, low-fat or high-carbohydrate diets3.

Vegan diets are found to be beneficial in the fight against aging and disease, as they reduce growth factors and lower insulin levels, along with increasing sensitivity to it. However, they are not on a par with the vegetarian or pescetarian diet, since the latter also manage to prevent the risk of bone fractures resulting from increased fragility, common in vegan subjects who disregard integration4.

Furthermore, a relatively high carbohydrate diet, in the absence of obesity and insulin resistance, is ideal because moderately high consumption of complex carbohydrates can help reduce frailty, particularly in the elderly, providing energy without increasing insulin and activating the glucose signaling pathways.

The analysis then moved on to different forms of fasting, including intermittent fasting (frequent and short-term) and periodic fasting (two or more days of fasting or diets that simulate fasting).

Whilst intermittent fasting appears to have beneficial effects, it is no better than mild calorie restriction for reducing weight and body fat or risk factors associated with disease. A 11-12 hour daily fast seems to be the perfect compromise, as it has the same efficacy, adherence, and risk of side effects5.

Periodic fasting is also emerging as an alternative to intermittent fasting, as it can be applied at regular intervals and combined with drug therapies for the treatment of certain diseases such as cancer6.

The fasting-mimicking diet, on the other hand, was developed to increase adherence, applicability, and safety of periodic fasting, but also to seek out the nutrients capable of intensifying the benefits associated with fasting for 3 days or more.

Disease risk markers such as insulin levels, C-reactive protein (inflammation marker), insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and cholesterol, are influenced by diet composition, as well as by fasting. For these reasons, the final part of the study was focused on specific dietary factors and components, involved in different genetic pathways for regulating longevity.

The Longevity Diet is characterized by a slight caloric restriction and the diet includes a selection of specific components, based on age, sex and health condition. It therefore represents a valid additional tool to standard treatments and a preventive measure with regards to the development of diseases and maintenance of health in old age.

The pillars on which it is based now constitute a common determining factor for longevity and a stimulus to change our habits, as they suggest that we:

  • prefer a medium-high intake of complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, and a limited but sufficient quantity of proteins, mainly vegetable origin (to be modified in qualitative and quantitative terms in the case of subjects over 65 or in children).
  • adopt a daily night fast of 11-12 hours interspersed with annual 5-day cycles of the fasting-mimicking diet.
  • maintain a BMI below 25 and the recommended body fat and abdominal circumference according to gender and age.

In summary, we propose that the Longevity Diet is a valuable addition to standard health care and that, when adopted as a preventative measure, it could help avoid morbidity, by supporting health all the way into old age.

SOURCES

  1. Longo V.D. et al.; Nutrition, longevity and disease: From molecular mechanisms to interventions; Cell. 2022 Apr 28;185(9):1455-1470.
  2. CW CHeng et al.; Prolonged Fasting Reduces IGF-1/PKA to promote hematopoietic-stem-cell-based regeneration and reverse immunosuppression; Cell Stem Cell, 2014
  3. Lopez-Espinoza et al.; Effect of a Ketogenic diet on the nutritional parameters of obese patients: a systematic review and metanalysis. Nutrients 2021; 13, 2946.
  4. Tong, T.Y.N. et al.; Vegetarian and vegan diets and risks of total and site-specific fractures: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study. BMC Med. 2020; 18, 353
  5. Deying Liu, M.D., et al.; Calorie Restriction with or without Time-Restricted Eating in Weight Loss; N Engl J Med 2022; 386:1495-1504
  6. Longo, V.D. et al.; Intermittent and periodic fasting, longevity and disease. Nat. Aging 2020; 1, 47–59

 

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