Tag Archives: aging

How Does What We Eat Affect Our Healthspan and Longevity?

The answer to a relatively concise question – how does what we eat affect how we age — is unavoidably complex, according to a new study at the Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. While most analyses had been concerned with the effects of a single nutrient on a single outcome, a conventional, uni-dimensional approach to understanding the effects of diet on health and aging no longer provides us with the full picture: healthy diet needs to be considered based on the balance of ensembles of nutrients, rather than by optimizing a series of nutrients one at a time. Until now little was known about how normal variation in dietary patterns in humans affects the aging process. The findings are published online in the journal BMC Biology.


“Our ability to understand the problem has been complicated by the fact that both nutrition and the physiology of aging are highly complex and multidimensional, involving a high number of functional interactions,” said Alan Cohen, PhD, associate professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Mailman School. “This study therefore provides further support to the importance of looking beyond ‘a single nutrient at a time’ as the one size fits all response to the age-old question of how to live a long and healthy life.” Cohen also points that the results are also concordant with numerous studies highlighting the need for increased protein intake in older people, in particular, to offset sarcopenia and decreased physical performance associated with aging.
 
Using multidimensional modelling techniques to test the effects of nutrient intake on physiological dysregulation in older adults, the researchers identified key patterns of specific nutrients associated with minimal biological aging. “Our approach presents a roadmap for future studies to explore the full complexity of the nutrition-aging landscape,” observed Cohen, who is also affiliated with the Butler Columbia Aging Center.

The researchers analyzed data from 1560 older men and women, aged 67-84 years selected randomly between November 2003 and June 2005 from the Montreal, Laval, or Sherbrooke areas in Quebec, Canada, who were re-examined annually for 3 years and followed over four years to assess on a large-scale how nutrient intake associates with the aging process. 

Aging and age-related loss of homeostasis (physiological dysregulation) were quantified via the integration of blood biomarkers. The effects of diet used the geometric framework for nutrition, applied to macronutrients and 19 micronutrients/nutrient subclasses. Researchers fitted a series of eight models exploring different nutritional predictors and adjusted for income, education level, age, physical activity, number of comorbidities, sex, and current smoking status.

Four broad patterns were observed:

    •    The optimal level of nutrient intake was dependent on the aging metric used. Elevated
protein intake improved/depressed some ageing parameters, whereas elevated carbohydrate levels improved/depressed oth
 
    •    There were cases where intermediate levels of nutrients performed well for many outcomes (i.e. arguing against a simple more/less is better perspective);
 
    •    There is broad tolerance for nutrient intake patterns that don’t deviate too much from norms
(‘homeostatic plateaus’).
 
    •    Optimal levels of one nutrient often depend on levels of another (e.g. vitamin E and vitamin C). Simpler analytical approaches are insufficient to capture such associations.
 
The research team also developed an interactive tool to allow users to explore how different combinations of micronutrients affect different aspects of aging.

The results of this study are consistent with earlier experimental work in mice showing that high-protein diets may accelerate aging earlier in life, but are beneficial at older ages.

“These results are not experimental and will need to be validated in other contexts. Specific findings, such as the salience of the combination of vitamin E and vitamin C, may well not replicate in other studies. But the qualitative finding that there are no simple answers to optimal nutrition is likely to hold up: it was evident in nearly all our analyses, from a wide variety of approaches, and is consistent with evolutionary principles and much previous work,” said Cohen.

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Healthy older people show greater mental well-being but poorer cognition than younger adults

The young and old could learn a thing or two from each other, at least when it comes to mental health and cognition.

In a new study, published September 12, 2022 in Psychology and Aging, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that healthy older adults show greater mental well-being but poorer cognitive performance than younger adults. The underlying neural mechanisms may inspire new interventions to promote healthy brain function.

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The study sampled 62 healthy younger adults in their 20s and 54 healthy older adults above age 60. Researchers evaluated participants’ mental health, surveying symptoms of anxiety, depression, loneliness and overall mental well-being. Participants also performed several cognitively demanding tasks while their brain activity was measured using electroencephalography (EEG).

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Mental health tips for seniors – NIA

As people age, changes such as hearing and vision loss, memory loss, disability, trouble getting around, and the loss of family and friends can make it difficult to maintain social connections. This makes older adults more likely to be socially isolated or to feel lonely. Although they sound similar, social isolation and loneliness are different, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Loneliness is the distressing feeling of being alone or separated, while social isolation is the lack of social contacts and having few people to interact with regularly.

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Several recent studies show that older adults who are socially isolated or feel lonely are at higher risk for heart disease, depression, and cognitive decline. A 2021 study of more than 11,000 adults older than age 70 found that loneliness was associated with a greater risk of heart disease. Another recent study found that socially isolated older adults experienced more chronic lung conditions and depressive symptoms compared to older adults with social support.

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What about seniors drinking alcohol? -NIA


Like all adults, older adults should avoid or limit alcohol consumption. In fact, aging can lead to social and physical changes that make older adults more susceptible to alcohol misuse and abuse and more vulnerable to the consequences of alcohol. Alcohol dependence or heavy drinking affects every organ in the body, including the brain.

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comprehensive study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that alcohol consumption among older adults, especially women, is on the rise. The researchers also found evidence that certain brain regions show signs of premature aging in alcohol-dependent men and women. In addition, heavy drinking for extended periods of time in older adults may contribute to poor heart health, as shown in this 2016 study. These studies suggest that stopping or limiting the use of alcohol could improve heart health and prevent the accelerated aging seen with heavy alcohol use.

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Learning a musical instrument may confer lifelong cognitive benefits

Musical training has long been linked to better general cognitive functioning. Studies investigating everything from the cognitive skills of adult musicians vs non-musicians to the effects of instrument lessons on children’s cognition has come out in support of the idea, according to the British Psychological Society.

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However, relatively few studies have explored whether the benefits last — if, as a child, you have piano lessons, for example, does this have any impact on your cognitive abilities in later life? The results of a new longitudinal study, in Psychological Science, which tested the same people at the ages of 11 and 70, suggest that it does. Cognitive benefits of musical training seem to be evident even decades later.

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Poor physical function after age 65 associated with future cardiovascular disease – AHA

Link found between physical function and cardiovascular disease risk in older adults, according to new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association

Among people older than age 65 who were assessed using a short physical function test, having lower physical function was independently associated with a greater risk of developing heart attack, heart failure and stroke, according to new research published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association, an open access, peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association.

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The Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) used in this study is considered a measure of physical function, which includes walking speed, leg strength and balance. This study examined physical function, which is different from physical fitness.

“While traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking or diabetes are closely linked to cardiovascular disease, particularly in middle-aged people, we also know these factors may not be as predictive in older adults, so we need to identify nontraditional predictors for older adults,” said study senior author Kunihiro Matsushita, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Division of Cardiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. “We found that physical function in older adults predicts future cardiovascular disease beyond traditional heart disease risk factors, regardless of whether an individual has a history of cardiovascular disease.”

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Is your blood type linked to your risk of stroke before age 60?

Gene variants associated with a person’s blood type may be linked to their risk of early stroke, according to a new meta-analysis published in the August 31, 2022, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The meta-analysis included all available data from genetic studies that included young adult ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

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“Non-O blood types have previously been linked to a risk of early stroke, but the findings of our meta-analysis showed a stronger link between these blood types with early stroke compared to late stroke, and in linking risk mostly to blood type A,” said study author Braxton D. Mitchell, PhD, MPH, of University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. “Specifically, our meta-analysis suggests that gene variants tied to blood types A and O represent nearly all of those genetically linked with early stroke. People with these gene variants may be more likely to develop blood clots, which can lead to stroke.”

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Getting more exercise than guidelines suggest may further lower death risk – AHA

Doubling to quadrupling the minimum amount of weekly physical activity recommended for U.S. adults may substantially lower the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and other causes, new research finds.

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The study, published Monday in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, found people who followed the minimum guidelines for moderate or vigorous long-term, leisure physical activity lowered their risk of dying from any cause by as much as 21%. But adults who exercised two to four times the minimum might lower their mortality risk by as much as 31%.

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Social stress contributes to accelerated aging of the immune system – NIH

Exposure to social stress was associated with accelerated aging of the immune system, according to an NIA-funded study recently published in PNAS. The body’s immune system changes as people age, and there’s large variability in these changes. The study, led by researchers at UCLA, investigated whether social stressors added to immune system decline.

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The researchers analyzed data from more than 5,500 people enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study, a long-term, nationally representative study of Americans over age 50. The researchers measured stress by analyzing responses to questions about exposure to various types of social stress, including discrimination, trauma, and other life events, such as unemployment. They also analyzed the participants’ immune profiles — a snapshot of immune system function — by drawing blood and measuring white blood cell levels, specifically T lymphocytes (also called T cells). T cells are an essential part of the immune system and help the body fight off infection.

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How you feel about aging could affect health – AHA

Is age really just a state of mind?

Perhaps not the number, but how we age might be. A growing body of research suggests a person’s mindset – how they feel about growing old – may predict how much longer and how well they live as the years go by.

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Several studies over the past 20 years suggest people with more positive attitudes about aging live longer, healthier lives than those with negative perceptions of the aging process. Recently, a large nationwide study of nearly 14,000 adults over age 50 took an even deeper look into the ways in which positive thinking about aging could impact a person’s physical health, health behaviors and psychological well-being.

Published in JAMA Network Open, the study found those with the highest satisfaction with aging had a 43% lower risk of dying from any cause during four years of follow-up compared to those with the lowest satisfaction. People with higher satisfaction also had a reduced risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes, stroke, cancer and heart disease, as well as better cognitive functioning. People with a more positive attitude about growing old also were more likely to engage in frequent physical activity and less likely to have trouble sleeping than their less-satisfied peers. They also were less lonely, less likely to be depressed, more optimistic and had a stronger sense of purpose.

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What is your actual age? The science of longevity – NM

If you’re 45 years old, that means that you’ve completed 45 rotations around the sun. But, how old are you really?

Humanity has been interested in slowing the aging process and finding the “fountain of youth” since the dawn of time, but conversations about longevity are especially relevant as life expectancy in the U.S. has decreased by more than a year since 2020.

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“Thanks to science, the mysteries of aging are now being revealed,” says Douglas E. Vaughan, MD, chair of Medicine and the Irving S. Cutter Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and co-director of Potocsnak Longevity Institute at Northwestern Medicine with Northwestern Medicine Infectious Disease Physician Frank J. Palella, MD. “The biology that drives the aging process is being demystified right in front of our eyes to the point that it’s conceivable to think about slowing the pace of aging, turning the clock back and altering the course of someone’s lifespan.”

Biological Versus Chronological Age

Chronological age is how long you have existed. Biological age is how old your cells are.

Sometimes these two numbers are the same for people, but everyone ages at different rates.

Your healthspan is the period of life where you are free of any aging-related disease. Dr. Vaughan and the Potocsnak Longevity Institute are aiming to increase the human healthspan by slowing down the aging process to push back the onset of aging-related diseases.

Aging-Related Diseases

For many diseases, the most important risk factor is biological age, meaning that if your cells are older, they are more susceptible to a variety of diseases, such as:

“For most people, if you live long enough, you’re going to get an aging-related disease like high blood pressure,” says Dr. Vaughan. “There’s a quantifiable alteration and deterioration in function as you age.”

Aging on a Cellular Level

You can see some signs of aging with the naked eye — gray hair, wrinkles, limited mobility — but aging really happens on a cellular level.

As your cells age, they eventually enter a phase called senescence, when they lose their ability to regenerate and repair themselves. Environmental factors like stress, or genetic factors like family history can trigger senescence in your cells. 

“In the last 20 years, we have unraveled the biology of senescence to the point where we are able to see a fingerprint of the molecular markers of biological age,” says Dr. Vaughan.

Telomeres

Chromosomes are structures that carry your DNA, which is the blueprint for your cells. Telomeres are groups of molecules called nucleotides on the ends of your chromosomes that act like bumpers, protecting your chromosomes from deterioration.

Every time your cells divide for normal repair and regeneration (which is all the time), your telomeres get shorter, which means they get shorter as you age. Research suggests that if you have shorter telomeres, you are more likely to die early or develop a disease like a neurodegenerative disorder.

In fact, there are people with short telomere syndromes (STS) who have genetic mutations that result in rapid aging due to short telomere lengths.

DNA Methylation

Humans have an estimated 30,000 genes, which carry the instructions for making proteins that make up your body and carry out all of its functions. Genes can be turned on or off like light switches. When your cells replicate and repair, a process called DNA methylation can occur. DNA methylation doesn’t alter or mutate your genes, but instead changes how you express your genes.

In short, DNA methylation can turn your genes on or off.

Examining DNA methylation is part of epigenetics, the study of how your genes are expressed based on your lifestyle and environment. This is important, because you don’t age in a vacuum. A variety of external factors contributes to how you age, including lifestyle, stress and even access to health care.

DNA methylation can also be a very precise predictor of your biological age.

“Someone who has diabetes will have a very different DNA methylation pattern than someone who doesn’t. Someone who smokes cigarettes will have a different DNA methylation pattern than someone who doesn’t,” says Dr. Vaughan. “DNA methylation can be reversed by lifestyle changes. You can alter your fate with diet and exercise, for example.”

Your actual age

Scientists may be able to measure your biological age in the not-so-distant future.

“We are not far away from having very precise measures that allow us to determine someone’s biological age,” says Dr. Vaughan. “We’re optimistic that we’ll soon be able to tinker with the biology of aging so that people can live longer healthspans.”

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Heart Health Tied to Psychological Well-Being – AHA

Heart health and your health in general are clearly tied to your psychological health. It should come as no surprise to regular readers here that eat less; move more; live longer works.

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The American Heart Association has released a scientific statement addressing how psychological health can contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Their analysis of science to date concluded that negative psychological health (depression, chronic stress, anxiety, anger, pessimism, and dissatisfaction with one’s current life) is linked to CVD risk and may play a direct role in both biological processes and downstream lifestyle behaviors that cause CVD. Conversely, positive psychological health can contribute to better cardiovascular health and reduced cardiovascular risk.The majority of research suggests interventions to improve psychological health can have a beneficial impact on cardiovascular health.

Get regular health check-ups that include basic screening for psychological health and seek help from a mental health professional if you have concerns. The study also recommends exercise, meditation, and other self-care as potential ways to promote both mental and physical health.

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Thyroid problems linked to increased risk of dementia

Older people with hypothyroidism, also called underactive thyroid, may be at increased risk of developing dementia, according to a new study — and the risk of developing dementia was even higher for people whose condition required thyroid hormone replacement medication.

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Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones, which can slow metabolism. Symptoms include fatigue, weight gain and sensitivity to cold.

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Loss of Male Sex Chromosome With Age Leads to Earlier Death for Men

Approximately 40% of men will lose their male sex chromosome in certain cells by age 70, and that can lead to deadly heart failure, a new study finds. (Illustration by Katriel E. Cho.)

The loss of the male sex chromosome as many men age causes the heart muscle to scar and can lead to deadly heart failure, new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine shows. The finding may help explain why men die, on average, several years younger than women.

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UVA researcher Kenneth Walsh, PhD, says the new discovery suggests that men who suffer Y chromosome loss – estimated to include 40% of 70-year-olds – may particularly benefit from an existing drug that targets dangerous tissue scarring. The drug, he suspects, may help counteract the harmful effects of the chromosome loss – effects that may manifest not just in the heart but in other parts of the body as well.

On average, women live five years longer than men in the United States. The new finding, Walsh estimates, may explain nearly four of the five-year difference.

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Spirituality linked with better health outcomes, patient care

Spirituality should be incorporated into care for both serious illness and overall health, according to a study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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“This study represents the most rigorous and comprehensive systematic analysis of the modern day literature regarding health and spirituality to date,” said Tracy Balboni, lead author and senior physician at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and professor of radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School. “Our findings indicate that attention to spirituality in serious illness and in health should be a vital part of future whole person-centered care, and the results should stimulate more national discussion and progress on how spirituality can be incorporated into this type of value-sensitive care.”

“Spirituality is important to many patients as they think about their health,” said Tyler VanderWeele, the John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Harvard Chan School. “Focusing on spirituality in health care means caring for the whole person, not just their disease.”

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Why is music good for the brain? – Harvard

Can music really affect your well-being, learning, cognitive function, quality of life, and even happiness, asks Harvard Health Publishing in a recent blog post. I have to confess that as a daily bike rider who plays music on a blue tooth speaker while riding, I was very happy to learn this.

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A recent survey on music and brain health conducted by AARP revealed some interesting findings about the impact of music on cognitive and emotional well-being:

  • Music listeners had higher scores for mental well-being and slightly reduced levels of anxiety and depression compared to people overall.
  • Of survey respondents who currently go to musical performances, 69% rated their brain health as “excellent” or “very good,” compared to 58% for those who went in the past and 52% for those who never attended.
  • Of those who reported often being exposed to music as a child, 68% rated their ability to learn new things as “excellent” or “very good,” compared to 50% of those who were not exposed to music.
  • Active musical engagement, including those over age 50, was associated with higher rates of happiness and good cognitive function.
  • Adults with no early music exposure but who currently engage in some music appreciation show above average mental well-being scores.

Let’s take a closer look at this study

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