While Mediterranean regions are fighting it out for top healthy nation ranking, Australia is slipping.
Spain has overtaken Italy as the world’s healthiest country, according to Bloomberg’s 2019 Healthiest Country Index, while Australia has dropped two places to number seven.
Despite Australia’s escalating rates of obesity and heart disease, our nation is still well ahead of the US, which has slipped one place to rank 35.
For the Bloomberg index, countries are ranked on elements such as life expectancy and penalised for tobacco use, obesity and other health risks. Environmental considerations like hygiene and access to clean water are also factored in.
In the US, life expectancy has slipped as a result of premature death from drug overdoses and suicides, while the Mediterranean diet, with well-established health benefits, could help explain Spain’s and Italy’s superior rankings.
A different analysis by LetterOne, the Global Wellness Index, is also searching beyond economic data in their quest to identify a healthy society.
The latter index uses metrics including blood pressure, tobacco and alcohol use, obesity, government healthcare spending, rates of depression, happiness and exercise.
According to their breakdown, Canada ranks as number one out of 151 countries. The US doesn’t fare well on this one either, coming in at number 37, while Australia just scrapes into the top 25 healthiest countries at 23.
Overall, what stands out from both lists is that many smaller nations are outperforming countries considered financially well off, reflecting increased awareness that strong economies do not equate to better health.
Even though Australia is doing moderately well in the overall scheme of things, several facts can’t be ignored. For instance, we endure, on average, 11 years of poor health – topping other OECD countries.
Health equality has a long way to go, with a 10-year gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
More than half of Australia adults have poor health literacy and less than four percent of people consume recommended serves of vegetables and legumes while most Australians don’t follow guidelines for any of the five core food groups.
We are also the second highest meat consumers in the world, eating on average 95 kilograms per person each year (260 grams per day) compared to a world average of 35 kilograms annually.
This is a major concern, given that red meat is classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation.
A recent Lancet report by 37 experts worldwide recommends a dramatic reduction in meat consumption – no more than 28 grams per day – and 100 percent increase in legume, nut, fruit and vegetable consumption globally.
The CSIRO recommends that Australians also need to invest resources to support aging, address increased rates of chronic disease and improve equity in health care access.
Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Mar 18, 2019 in Aging
With aging, the body’s inbuilt mechanisms for sweeping out and recycling cellular metabolic waste products starts to wane.
Kick-starting this inbuilt cleaning up process, known as “autophagy”, could be a key anti-aging target to slow the degenerative impacts of growing older.
First named in 1963 by Christian de Duve, Yoshinori Ohsumi identified autophagy mechanisms in the 1990s, earning him the 2016 Nobel Prize.
Autophagy literally refers to eating yourself (“auto” means self and “phagy” means eat).
For years it was thought to just be a form of programmed cell death. But researchers have now “shed important light on the true identity of autophagy – which is, in part, an adaptive cellular mechanism,” writes Beth Levine in the journal Cell Death and Differentiation.
By cleaning up waste products and damaged cells, autophagy stimulates cellular repair and regeneration. So rather than causing cell death, autophagy boosts cell survival.
“It is recycling and cleaning at the same time, just like hitting a reset button to your body,” Dr Luiza Petre told Healthline. “Plus, it promotes survival and adaptation as a response to various stressors and toxins accumulated in our cells.”
When cells are stressed by disease, autophagy ramps up its spring cleaning. It has therefore gained much attention for its role in several conditions including obesity, diabetes, cancer, and infection.
The process decreases with aging, which may contribute to age-related pathologies including reduced muscle mass, neurodegeneration, heart malfunction, fat accumulation and increased insulin sensitivity.
Diminished autophagy has also been implicated in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Although more research is needed, Nuria Martinez-Lopez and co-authors suggest that “longevity and health-span can potentially be improved by activating [autophagy] pathways”.
The most well-established mechanism for triggering this process is caloric restriction – reduced food intake without malnutrition – and fasting, defined by Fernanda Antunes as “the complete deprivation of food but not water, with intervening periods of normal food intake”.
This can be intermittent fasting – alternate day fasting for over 16 hours or 48 hours of fasting per week – or periodic fasting (a minimum of 3 days of fasting every 2 or more weeks).
Restricted dietary intake has been shown to decrease the incidence of age-related diseases and to increase life span in many experimental models ranging from yeasts to mammals.
Autophagy might account for the benefits that caloric restriction has shown for reducing risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and brain-related diseases.
There may be other ways to trigger cell cleaning and regeneration. A flowering Japanese plant called ashitaba (Angelica keiskei) has been traditionally used in Asian medicine for its longevity and health-promoting properties.
Recently, researchers discovered the plant contains a powerful flavonoid, DMC, that lengthened the lifespan of yeasts, fruit flies, worms and human cells – primarily through switching on the cells’ fasting response.
Older adults considering caloric restriction or intermittent fasting should consult their health care professional, being especially mindful of the high malnutrition risk with aging.
The link between type 2 diabetes and obesity is so strong that the condition, also known as obesity-dependent diabetes, is now referred to as “diabesity”.
Diabesity has reached epidemic proportions globally, prompting researchers to name this century “the unprecedented diabetogenic era in human history”.
Over time, diabetes causes serious health complications, including heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. It impacts peripheral blood vessels, eyes, gums, and even the brain, with Alzheimer’s disease now dubbed “type 3 diabetes”.
Obesity is also linked to heart disease and stroke, and other conditions including colon cancer, depression, liver diseases and gastroesophageal reflux disease. Both conditions result in poorer quality of life and premature death.
Various lines of evidence have revealed how obesity escalates diabetes risk.
When fat cells grow, particularly by 30 percent or more, they get “angry” and release inflammatory markers, causing chronic inflammation. These cytokines impact insulin receptors that prompt cells to let glucose in. The pancreas tries to release more insulin and eventually becomes exhausted.
Abdominal fat cells also produce hormones that further decrease the effectiveness of insulin receptors.
In the pancreas, fat cells directly reduce its ability to release insulin. All these factors lead to insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels – resulting in diabetes.
In turn, diabetes can reinforce weight gain. For instance, when it’s not controlled and glucose can’t enter cells for energy and important metabolic processes, the cells send out hunger signals.
Anti-diabetic medications including insulin can also increase weight gain.
Essentially, once set in, the condition can spiral out of control and has therefore been described as a slow poison.
Apart from a genetic vulnerability, most factors contributing to diabesity can be addressed before it becomes unmanageable.
The primary candidates are diet and physical activity, so warding off diabesity means taking charge of lifestyle habits.
A varied diet that decreases meat, processed foods and refined carbohydrates while increasing fresh plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains is a primary defence.
Apart from reducing caloric intake and weight gain, this dietary approach avoids blood sugar spikes by reducing refined sugars and increasing fibre, putting less strain on the pancreas to release insulin.
Research suggests the antioxidant compounds and magnesium in plant foods help cells become more sensitive to insulin. Antioxidant polyphenols may also prevent diabetes in other ways, including their ability to stimulate insulin secretion and improve glucose uptake.
Plant fibre not only slows the release of glucose into the blood stream, it promotes intestinal bacteria that can improve the body’s glucose response, insulin signalling and insulin sensitivity.
Plant-based diets are also low in saturated fat, advanced glycation end-products (AGEs – oxidant compounds that are particularly high in cooked meat) and other dietary elements associated with insulin resistance.
Exercise can not only help deter weight gain; its numerous health benefits include improved insulin sensitivity. Experts recommend a combination of regular aerobic and resistance or strength training for optimal results.
Other lifestyle factors that can help maintain healthy weight and blood glucose levels include lowering stress and sleeping well.