Food vs. anti-aging wonder drugs: Which works best

You’ve often read here about how food affects health and, in particular, the aging process.

Research has revealed that eating red meat ages you more quickly and that a Mediterranean diet can keep frailty from making you helpless as you age.

So we’re learning that the right food is powerful medicine.

Yet there hasn’t been much detailed research done comparing the efficacy of diet vs. anti-aging drugs scientists are developing that reduce the risk of age-associated health issues including obesity, heart disease, immune dysfunction and risk of metabolic diseases — until now…

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Research proves that changing your diet will do more than taking a drug

Scientists at the University of Sydney say that a good diet is more efficient than medication at keeping conditions like diabetes, stroke and heart disease at bay.

They base this statement on a complex mouse study that compared 40 different treatments, each with varying levels of protein, fat and carbohydrate balance, as well as calories and drug content.

In this way, they analyzed the impact of three anti-aging drugs on the liver, which is a key organ in the regulation of metabolism:

  • Metformin — Beginning in 1972 with Russian scientists, metformin was found to slow down aging in rodents. It appears to have a powerful effect on Adenosine Monophosphate-Activated Protein Kinase (AMPK for short) signaling. AMPK is like the “master switch” that determines how our bodies process energy. Its signaling function declines with age beginning a cascade of cellular changes that are what we know as the signs of aging.
  • Rapamycin — Rapamycin and its cousin medicines (“rapalogs”) are currently prescription medications for organ transplant recipients and also cancer patients. Studies have shown that the drug, derived from an antifungal metabolite discovered in soil samples from Easter Island, extends life span in diverse species from yeast to mammals, is shown to suppress the process of cell deterioration with age and improves metabolic parameters.
  • Resveratrol — Not really a drug, but a plant compound in the polyphenol family, known for its antioxidant effects. Resveratrol administration has increased the lifespans of yeast, worms, fruit flies, fish, and mice fed a high-calorie diet. Animal studies have suggested that resveratrol might be neuroprotective and be beneficial in the prevention and/or treatment of neurodegenerative diseases; however, clinical trials in cognitively impaired older people are very limited. In randomized controlled trials, short-term supplementation significantly improved metabolic disorders in type 2 diabetics.

What they found was pretty straightforward: Changes in metabolic processes brought about by drugs are pretty small compared to changes that result from dietary choices.

“Given humans share essentially the same nutrient-signaling pathways as mice, the research suggests people would get better value from changing their diet to improve metabolic health rather than taking the drugs we studied,” says Professor Stephen Simpson, senior study author and Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre at U. Sydney.

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Diet and lifestyle changes are sustainable

Now, I know that changing your eating habits and lifestyle choices is more difficult than just taking a pill. But it’s also more sustainable.

Specifically what changes would you need to make?

Well, the researchers found balancing calorie intake (energy) and macronutrients (protein, fats and carbohydrates) in the diet had a strong impact on the liver.

Infact, protein and total calorie intake had a particularly powerful effect not just on metabolic pathways, but also on fundamental processes that control how cells function.

For example, the amount of protein eaten influenced activity in the mitochondria, the tiny powerplants responsible for producing energy in cells.

This has a deeper effect: the amount of protein and dietary energy eaten influences how accurately cells translate their genes into the different proteins needed for proper cellular function and for making new cells.

The researchers say these two fundamental processes are linked to aging.

Far too often though, if we’re not careful, our diets are heavier in fats and carbs. If we want to experience healthier aging, we’ll have to focus on quality protein, strike a healthy balance with the amount of carbohydrates we eat and concentrate on healthier fats — and that sounds an awful lot like the liver-loving Mediterranean diet.

Resveratrol, one of the three “drugs” used in the study, had a bigger effect on changes in the cells caused by dietary fat and carbohydrates. Previous research has also shown that resveratrol can fight the effects of a high-fat diet.

Of course, the good news here is that resveratrol, as I mentioned earlier, is a plant compound, known for its antioxidant effects. So, it’s easy to eat more of the foods that contain resveratrol or supplement it too.

Resveratrol containing foods include:

  • Peanuts
  • Pistachios
  • Grapes
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Cocoa
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Red wine (but only drink in moderation)

The moral of the story: if you’re choosy about what you eat, you can live a long, strong life.

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In the battle against ageing diet is more important than drugs —

Diet trumps drugs for anti ageing and good metabolic health — University of Sydney

Nutritional reprogramming of mouse liver proteome is dampened by metformin, resveratrol, and rapamycin — Science Direct

Anti-ageing treatments: these two drug types are being investigated — The Conversation

Resveratrol — The Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.