Healthy ageing involves the interaction between genes, the environment, and lifestyle factors, particularly diet. Besides evaluating specific gene-environment interactions in relation to exceptional longevity, it is important to focus attention on modifiable lifestyle factors such as diet and nutrition to achieve extension of health span. Furthermore, a better understanding of human longevity and dietary patterns of centenarians may assist in the design of strategies to extend the duration of optimal human health.
The comparison of the gut among young adults, the elderly, and centenarians has highlighted that the mutualistic changes in the composition and diversity of the gut ecosystem do not follow a linear relation with age. Centenarians stand out as a separate population, their gut microbiota showing high diversity in terms of species composition. The age and high-fiber diet were coincidental with changes in the gut microbiota of centenarians, suggesting that age and high-fiber diet can establish a new structurally balanced architecture of gut microbiota that may benefit the health of centenarians.
Lifestyle factors such as diet and nutrition might influence life extension and successful ageing. It was reported in Sicily there are many male centenarians and their nutritional assessment showed a high adherence to the Mediterranean diet with low glycemic index foods. It is based on the traditional foods that people used to eat in countries like Italy and Greece rich in healthy plant foods and relatively lower in animal foods, with a focus on fish and seafood. It is advisable to follow a diet with low quantity of saturated fat and high amount of fruits and vegetables rich in phytochemicals (e.g. polyphenols, flavonoids, terpenoids, etc.) shown to have protective effects- against age-related degeneration.
The diets of 5 populations with extraordinarily high longevity with high prevalence of centenarians labelled “Blue Zones”. Populations of Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica and Ikaria, Greece seem to have a high prevalence of centenarians and a preferential attitude toward a plant based-diet. Although different nutritional compounds have been analyzed in studies of health ageing and longevity, it is crucial to understand how specific nutritional components and dietary patterns may affect health and longevity.
To date the main dietary intervention that may retard the ageing process is calorie restriction and a rare human example could be the Okinawan population in Japan. Okinawans appear to have undergone a mild form of prolonged calorie restriction for decades that could have contributed to a lower risk of mortality. While scientists while scientists try to validate the veracity and variety of associated causes of this exceptional longevity, it is advisable to follow a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains but reduced in saturated fat.
Demographic projections suggest that there will be 3.7 million centenarians across the globe in 2050. In particular, China is expected to have the largest centenarian population, followed by Japan, the United States, Italy and India.
Knowledge of nutrient-sensing (a cell’s ability to recognize and respond to fuel substrates such as glucose) pathways has greatly increased in recent years and the modulation of these pathways by diet or pharmaceuticals can have a profound impact on health and longevity. There are also promising and attractive new targets for therapeutic interventions that can positively affect healthy ageing. The development of strategies that will lead to the extension of healthy life and that would result in slowing the rate of ageing and lowering risk for age associated disease may be part of the new paradigm for the biomedical sciences that can be termed ‘positive biology’ – rather than making disease the central focus of researchers’ efforts, positive biology seeks to understand the causes of positive make-up and which biological mechanisms would explain health and well-being.
To summarize based on the above research, here are the observed nutritional patterns that can lead to healthy ageing…
- Adopting a high fiber diet for a balanced gut microbiota
- Adherence to the Mediterranean diet with low glycemic index foods
- Following a plant based diet with high amounts of fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains and a low quantity of saturated fats
- Calorie restriction characterized as undernutrition without malnutrition.
In addition to the above, the components leading to healthy physical and cognitive ageing might include a variety of patterns that include a healthy diet, high physical activity, and social engagement. Successful or unsuccessful ageing is also determined by environmental factors associated with social structure, culture and lifestyle.
This raises the question, would you like to live to 100+ and become a centenarian? I see that ageing gracefully and avoiding disease should be the main goal, now whether we live to 100+ is not guaranteed and it’s ultimately up to God’s will. 🙂
References for further reading:
- Santoro et. al. Gut microbiota changes in the extreme decades of human life: a focus on centenarians (2017) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00018-017-2674-y
- Davinelli et. al. Extending healthy ageing: nutrient sensitive pathway and centenarian population (2012) https://immunityageing.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1742-4933-9-9
- Vasto et.al. Centenarians and diet: what they eat in the Western part of Sicily (2012) https://immunityageing.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1742-4933-9-10
- Gut Microbiota Community and Its Assembly Associated with Age and Diet in Chinese Centenarians (2015) http://www.jmb.or.kr/journal/view.html?doi=10.4014/jmb.1410.10014
- The Nutrition Academy, Applied Functional Nutrition Course, Module 2: Eating for Your Generation
- Calorie Restriction Diet: A dietary intervention to increase life span https://www.scientificpsychic.com/health/crondiet.html
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