Can Our Diets Determine How We Age?

Can Our Diets Determine How We Age?

The answer to what seems like a simple question is inevitably complex, as per a new study from the Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Traditional, one-dimensional approaches to understanding the effects of nutrition on health and aging no longer provide us with the entire picture, despite the fact that the vast majority of research have concentrated on the effects of a single nutrient on a single outcome. Rather than focusing on optimizing a sequence of nutrients one at a time, it is more helpful to think of a balanced diet in terms of the balance of ensembles of nutrients. Not much was known until recently about how naturally occurring dietary variety in humans affects aging. The recent publication of these results can be found in BMC Biology.

The results corroborate those of other research showing that older adults, in particular, need to increase their protein intake to prevent sarcopenia and the resulting decline in physical ability that comes with age.
Utilizing multidimensional modeling methods, the researchers looked into the effect of dietary nutrients on physiological dysregulation in the elderly, and they found critical patterns of certain nutrients associated to minimal biological aging.

This study examined the relationship between nutrient intake and aging by analyzing data from 1560 randomly chosen men and women aged 67 to 84 from the Montreal, Laval, and Sherbrooke areas of Quebec, Canada between November 2003 and June 2005. Participants were re-examined once every year for three years and followed for four years.

Blood biomarkers were integrated to provide quantitative measures of aging and homeostasis decline associated with aging. The geometric framework for nutrition was applied to the 19 micronutrients/nutrient subclasses and the 3 macronutrients to determine the dietary effects. Researchers accounted for socioeconomic status, levels of education and physical activity, the presence or absence of co-morbidities, gender, and smoking habits, and then fitted a series of eight models evaluating various dietary predictors.

There were four major trends that emerged:

  1. The recommended dietary intake varied with different measures of age. Some indicators of aging were affected positively by increased protein intake, whereas others were affected negatively;
  2. There were situations where moderate nutritional intake yielded favorable results;
  3. Generally speaking, dietary patterns that differ from standards but are still somewhat close are well tolerated.
  4. Optimal nutrient levels are frequently dependent on those of other nutrients. It is difficult for more straightforward methods of analysis to fully capture these kinds of correlations.


Anna is an avid blogger with an educational background in medicine and mental health. She is a generalist with many other interests including nutrition, women's health, astronomy and photography. In her free time from work and writing, Anna enjoys nature walks, reading, and listening to jazz and classical music.

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