Why nutrition is crucial for longevity

 

This is the first in our five part series on what we see as the core principals of a living a long life and maximising healthpsan. The five principals are:

  • Eating right
  • Sleeping right
  • Moving right
  • Thinking right
  • Breathing right

 

Why nutrition is crucial for longevity

Life expectancy may be increasing, but that doesn’t mean everyone who lives into old age is healthy. If you want to live a healthy long life, you need to get the right nutrition for longevity.

Read on to find out the best nutrition for a long life, and why it matters.

 

What is nutrition for longevity?

What you eat affects how well you age.

Unhealthy foods can trigger blood sugar highs and lows, weight gain, and inflammation. This isn’t a problem short-term. But when we eat these foods all the time, it can damage our bodies.

This increases your risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. We call these “lifestyle diseases”, and they’re linked to reduced longevity.(1)

 

Lifestyle diseases are the top causes of death

Unhealthy diets contribute to the top 3 causes of death worldwide.(2) They are:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

In fact, lifestyle diseases cause almost half of all deaths. We’re at higher risk of lifestyle diseases when we live an unhealthy lifestyle:

  • Unhealthy food
  • Not enough exercise
  • Living or working in a high-stress environment

One of the main culprits is ultra-processed food (UPF). UPFs increase your risk of insulin resistance, inflammation, and type 2 diabetes. Processed foods also have no minerals, vitamins or fibre - crucial for a long, healthy life.(3)

 

Nutrient deficiencies linked to shorter life

Nutritional deficiencies impact your immune system. Being deficient in certain nutrients increases your risk of diseases such as pneumonia.(4)

Unfortunately, the typical Western diet is low in several very important nutrients.

For example, Vitamin D is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. Low levels can lead to frailty, fractures, and an increased risk of illnesses and cancer.

On the flip side, scientists found supplementing vitamin D can make you 2.6 years younger.(5)

Another common deficiency is zinc. 30% of adults are zinc deficient. Zinc deficiency can increase your risk of many chronic diseases seen in the elderly such as:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

Why? Zinc is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient important for your immune system. So not getting enough increases your risk of inflammation, oxidative stress, and infections.(6)

Zinc also helps balance blood sugar and prevents insulin resistance - signs of ageing.

 

Insulin resistance promotes the ageing process

Reducing your sugar intake is a must for a long life.

Too much sugar (or refined carbohydrates) triggers high insulin levels. Insulin moves the sugar from your blood into your cells. But over time, your body becomes insensitive to all the insulin floating around. It stops doing its job. We call this insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is one of the main factors in ageing.

Insulin and IGF-1

High insulin increases IGF-1 - ‘insulin-like growth factor-1’. Scientists discovered IGF-1 plays a major role in regulating longevity. Less IGF-1 promotes a longer lifespan, whereas high levels speed up the ageing process.(7)

So it’s not surprising that consuming sodas and drinks with added sugar can take up to 6 years off your life. Most of us get most of our sugar from drinks, so cutting these out is the first step.

If you don’t fix your blood sugar, you could end up with one of the chronic inflammatory diseases: type 2 diabetes.

 

Chronic inflammation - otherwise known as “inflamm-ageing”

Remember heart disease and stroke being the top killers in the world? The highest risk factor is chronic inflammation.

So if you don't want to die from a stroke, you must avoid chronic inflammatory diseases:(8)

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Hypertension

Telomere damage

Inflammation damages your telomeres - the DNA at the ends of your chromosomes. Their job is to protect your genes.(9) But the damage makes your telomeres shorter, so your genes have less protection. The shorter your telomeres, the lower your life expectancy.

But it’s not as easy as cutting out “bad” foods. Scientists are now realising how important gut bacteria are for life expectancy. And your gut bacteria need specific “good” foods.

 

Your gut bacteria might determine your age

An imbalance of the gut microbiome - “dysbiosis” - may increase your risk of one of the top killers: stroke.(8)

In fact, dysbiosis can increase your risk of 40 old-age diseases.(10)

Can dysbiosis cause disease?

Dysbiosis can mean either:

  • Too many bad bacteria
  • Or not enough good bacteria

Sometimes, unwanted pathogenic microbes could be causing the disease. Other times, it's not having enough good bacteria that's the problem.(11)

For example, people with high blood pressure tend to have higher numbers of bad gut bacteria. The more bad bacteria, the higher the blood pressure.(12)

Remember nutrient deficiencies speed up ageing? People with healthy gut bacteria have higher levels of nutrients and vitamins. Good bacteria literally make vitamins that our body can use.

 

What foods increase longevity? Our top 5 nutrition tips for longevity

Now you're likely wondering what you can do to improve your longevity.

Scientists found people with lower inflammation and longer telomeres eat certain foods.(13) So here are our top nutrition tips for a longer life, according to science.

 

1. Whole plant-based foods

People who live longer tend to eat more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and coffee.(14)

But eating processed meat increases your risk of diseases such as colorectal cancer.(13,15)

Whole grains are important

Eating whole grains every day increases healthy life expectancy.(16)

The Mediterranean diet - rich in whole grains - is a great example. Those following the Mediterranean diet age more slowly. Scientists think it's due to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients in plants called polyphenols.(17)

Flavonoids are a polyphenol in fruits, vegetables, and coffee. It's linked to better insulin sensitivity and can prevent (even reverse) diabetes.(18)

[Note: Although it’s not linked to living longer, it's OK to eat organic white meat on the odd occasion. But avoid frying or grilling meat at higher temperatures. The resulting polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are linked to faster ageing.](19)

 

2. Caloric restriction

You’ve heard of the 5:2 diet, intermittent fasting, and time-restricted eating. These are all ways to eat fewer calories during the day. People usually do this for weight loss, but it can also have life-prolonging effects.

Glucose balancing

Calorie restriction boosts gluconeogenesis. This is the process of making energy from protein and fats instead of carbohydrates.

Being in a state of gluconeogenesis reduces your glucose, insulin and IGF-1 levels.(20) Scientists think this is why calorie restriction is good for longevity.(21)

This explains why Metformin - the most popular anti-diabetic drug in the world - may also delay ageing. Metformin also balances blood sugar, and reduces insulin and IGF-1 levels.(22)

Sleep regulation

The benefits of calorie restriction even extend to sleep and gut health. Eating at certain times can regulate circadian rhythm and balance the gut microbiome. All this lowers markers of inflammatory and oxidative stress.(23)

It’s not only restricting calories which has a positive impact on longevity. Restricting certain macronutrients also has an impact.

 

3. Less protein

Too much protein could lead to a shorter life span.(24)

Eating lots of protein increases the “acid load” of your diet. The higher your diet acid load, the greater your risk of insulin resistance.(25) There's also a link between eating less protein, blood sugar balance and lower IGF-1 levels.(13)

But there’s one amino acid in particular which seems to be problematic.

Methionine restriction

It’s called methionine - and the main source is meat.

Animal studies suggest eating a low-methionine diet can increase lifespan. The lifespan of rats was 40% longer on a low-methionine diet.(26)

Limiting methionine might also:

  • aid weight loss
  • increase insulin sensitivity
  • decrease inflammation and oxidative stress
  • slow cancer cell growth(27)

All this research gave birth to a new longevity diet called “Methionine Restriction”.(28)

So, try to get most of your protein from beans, lentils and whole grains instead of meat and dairy. Replace some of the protein you used to eat with healthy fats instead (more on that next).

 

4. Healthy fats

Processed and saturated fats are linked to heart disease.

But not all fats are bad. Your body needs some healthy fats to function.

Anti-inflammatory fats

Omega-3s are particularly important. They combat the main risk factors of ageing - inflammation and insulin resistance.(29)

Monounsaturated fats are also linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Foods high in healthy fats to include in your diet are:

  • oily fish
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • avocados

Inflammatory fats

You want to aim for more anti-inflammatory omega-3 than pro-inflammatory omega-6.(30) So try to avoid refined vegetable oils high in omega-6, such as soybean oil, rapeseed oil, and sunflower oil.

 

5. Spermidine

Spermidine is a naturally-occurring compound associated with longevity. It protects the heart and brain, and even has anticancer properties.(31)

You can get spermidine from your diet. But supplementing at high doses could have even greater life-prolonging effects.

Spermidine and cell renewal

One study found spermidine supplements even improved brain function in people with dementia.(32)

Spermidine works by increasing autophagy, which means cell death. Sounds like a bad thing, right? But the more old cells die, the more new, healthy cells can grow.

It’s this ability of spermidine to encourage cell death which might improve dementia. Old malfunctioning brain cells die, and new healthy brain cells take their place.

There’s lots of natural spermidine in the Mediterranean diet. The best sources of spermidine are:(33)

  • Aged cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Soy foods
  • Beans
  • Green peas
  • Whole grains

 

Summary

You can’t avoid getting older, but you can choose how well you age. You may even be able to choose how long you live.

By making better food choices, you can stay active and live the rest of your life to the fullest. Balancing your blood sugar and reducing inflammation are paramount to a long life. Eating more plant-based foods, more healthy fats, and less calories can all help.

But it’s not always easy to get all the right nutrition from your diet. Longevity Box’s supplements provide all the nutrients you need without the stress of eating right every day.

Find out more about our supplement range here.

 

References

  1. McDonald RB, Ruhe RC. Aging and longevity: why knowing the difference is important to nutrition research. Nutrients [Internet]. 2011 Mar [cited 2022 Jul 26];3(3). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22254097/
  2. The top 10 causes of death [Internet]. [cited 2022 Jul 26]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death
  3. Ames BN. Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scarce micronutrients by triage. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A [Internet]. 2006 Nov 21 [cited 2022 Jul 14];103(47). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17101959/
  4. Nutritional deficiencies [Internet]. [cited 2022 Jul 26]. Available from: https://platform.who.int/mortality/themes/theme-details/topics/topic-details/MDB/nutritional-deficiencies
  5. Vetter VM, Sommerer Y, Kalies CH, Spira D, Bertram L, Demuth I. Vitamin D supplementation is associated with slower epigenetic aging. GeroScience [Internet]. 2022 Jun [cited 2022 Jul 14];44(3). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35562603/
  6. Prasad AS. Zinc: an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent: role of zinc in degenerative disorders of aging. J Trace Elem Med Biol [Internet]. 2014 Oct [cited 2022 Jul 26];28(4). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25200490/
  7. Salminen A, Kaarniranta K, Kauppinen A. Insulin/IGF-1 signaling promotes immunosuppression via the STAT3 pathway: impact on the aging process and age-related diseases. Inflamm Res [Internet]. 2021 Dec [cited 2022 Jul 26];70(10-12). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34476533/
  8. Huang Q, Cai G, Liu T, Liu Z. Relationships Among Gut Microbiota, Ischemic Stroke and Its Risk Factors: Based on Research Evidence. Int J Gen Med [Internet]. 2022 Feb 23 [cited 2022 Jul 26];15. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35795301/
  9. Crous-Bou M, Molinuevo JL, Sala-Vila A. Plant-Rich Dietary Patterns, Plant Foods and Nutrients, and Telomere Length. Adv Nutr [Internet]. 2019 Nov 1 [cited 2022 Jul 14];10(Suppl_4). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31728493/
  10. Jackson MA, Verdi S, Maxan ME, Shin CM, Zierer J, Bowyer RCE, et al. Gut microbiota associations with common diseases and prescription medications in a population-based cohort. Nat Commun [Internet]. 2018 Jul 9 [cited 2022 Jul 26];9(1). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29985401/
  11. Duvallet C, Gibbons SM, Gurry T, Irizarry RA, Alm EJ. Meta-analysis of gut microbiome studies identifies disease-specific and shared responses. Nat Commun [Internet]. 2017 Dec 5 [cited 2022 Jul 26];8(1). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29209090/
  12. Yan Q, Gu Y, Li X, Yang W, Jia L, Chen C, et al. Alterations of the Gut Microbiome in Hypertension. Front Cell Infect Microbiol [Internet]. 2017 Aug 24 [cited 2022 Jul 26];7. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28884091/
  13. Ekmekcioglu C. Nutrition and longevity - From mechanisms to uncertainties. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2022 Jul 14];60(18). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31631676/
  14. Rocha JP, Laster J, Parag B, Shah NU. Multiple Health Benefits and Minimal Risks Associated with Vegetarian Diets. Curr Nutr Rep [Internet]. 2019 Dec [cited 2022 Jul 14];8(4). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31705483/
  15. Hebels DG, Sveje KM, de Kok MC, van Herwijnen MH, Kuhnle GG, Engels LG, et al. N-nitroso compound exposure-associated transcriptomic profiles are indicative of an increased risk for colorectal cancer. Cancer Lett [Internet]. 2011 Oct 1 [cited 2022 Jul 14];309(1). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21669488/
  16. Capurso C. Whole-Grain Intake in the Mediterranean Diet and a Low Protein to Carbohydrates Ratio Can Help to Reduce Mortality from Cardiovascular Disease, Slow Down the Progression of Aging, and to Improve Lifespan: A Review. Nutrients [Internet]. 2021 Jul 25 [cited 2022 Jul 26];13(8). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34444699/
  17. Esposito S, Gialluisi A, Costanzo S, Di Castelnuovo A, Ruggiero E, De Curtis A, et al. Mediterranean diet and other dietary patterns in association with biological aging in the Moli-sani Study cohort. Clin Nutr [Internet]. 2022 May [cited 2022 Jul 14];41(5). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35390726/
  18. Fraga CG, Croft KD, Kennedy DO, Tomás-Barberán FA. The effects of polyphenols and other bioactives on human health. Food Funct [Internet]. 2019 Feb 20 [cited 2022 Jul 14];10(2). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30746536/
  19. Li J, Zhu X, Yu K, Jiang H, Zhang Y, Wang B, et al. Exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Accelerated DNA Methylation Aging. Environ Health Perspect [Internet]. 2018 Jun 14 [cited 2022 Jul 14];126(6). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29906262/
  20. Pellegrini M, Cioffi I, Evangelista A, Ponzo V, Goitre I, Ciccone G, et al. Effects of time-restricted feeding on body weight and metabolism. A systematic review and meta-analysis. Rev Endocr Metab Disord [Internet]. 2020 Mar [cited 2022 Jul 26];21(1). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31808043/
  21. Anisimov VN, Bartke A. The key role of growth hormone-insulin-IGF-1 signaling in aging and cancer. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol [Internet]. 2013 Sep [cited 2022 Jul 26];87(3). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23434537/
  22. Chen S, Gan D, Lin S, Zhong Y, Chen M, Zou X, et al. Metformin in aging and aging-related diseases: clinical applications and relevant mechanisms. Theranostics [Internet]. 2022 Mar 6 [cited 2022 Jul 26];12(6). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35401820/
  23. Froy O, Miskin R. Effect of feeding regimens on circadian rhythms: implications for aging and longevity. Aging [Internet]. 2010 Dec 11 [cited 2022 Jul 26];2(1). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20228939/
  24. Zhang C, Yan Q, Zhu Q, Liu J, Dong Y, Li Y, et al. Metabolomics Study of Isocaloric Different Dietary Patterns on the Life Span in Healthy Population. Clin Interv Aging [Internet]. 2021 Dec 22 [cited 2022 Jul 26];16. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35221682/
  25. Della Guardia L, Thomas MA, Cena H. Insulin Sensitivity and Glucose Homeostasis Can Be Influenced by Metabolic Acid Load. Nutrients [Internet]. 2018 May 15 [cited 2022 Jul 14];10(5). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29762478/
  26. Orentreich N, Matias JR, DeFelice A, Zimmerman JA. Low methionine ingestion by rats extends life span. J Nutr [Internet]. 1993 Feb [cited 2022 Jul 19];123(2). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8429371/
  27. Wanders D, Hobson K, Ji X. Methionine Restriction and Cancer Biology. Nutrients [Internet]. 2020 Mar 3 [cited 2022 Jul 19];12(3). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32138282/
  28. Green CL, Lamming DW, Fontana L. Molecular mechanisms of dietary restriction promoting health and longevity. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol [Internet]. 2022 Jan [cited 2022 Jul 14];23(1). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34518687/
  29. Buoite SA, Gortan CG, Barazzoni R, Zanetti M. Update on the Impact of Omega 3 Fatty Acids on Inflammation, Insulin Resistance and Sarcopenia: A Review. Int J Mol Sci [Internet]. 2018 Jan 11 [cited 2022 Jul 14];19(1). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29324650/
  30. Okuyama H, Kobayashi T, Watanabe S. Dietary fatty acids--the N-6/N-3 balance and chronic elderly diseases. Excess linoleic acid and relative N-3 deficiency syndrome seen in Japan. Prog Lipid Res [Internet]. 1996 Dec [cited 2022 Jul 14];35(4). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9246358/
  31. Madeo F, Eisenberg T, Pietrocola F, Kroemer G. Spermidine in health and disease. Science [Internet]. 2018 Jan 26 [cited 2022 Jul 26];359(6374). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29371440/
  32. Pekar T, Bruckner K, Pauschenwein-Frantsich S, Gschaider A, Oppliger M, Willesberger J, et al. The positive effect of spermidine in older adults suffering from dementia : First results of a 3-month trial. Wien Klin Wochenschr [Internet]. 2021 May [cited 2022 Jul 26];133(9-10). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33211152/
  33. Ali MA, Poortvliet E, Strömberg R, Yngve A. Polyamines in foods: development of a food database. Food Nutr Res [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2022 Jul 26];55. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3022763/