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Nutrition for Active and Healthy Aging

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Autophagy: the body’s spring cleaning

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.



Increasing health span and longevity


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.




Dementia-related deaths are rising

Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Jan 30, 2019 in Aging, Cognition

Over the past decade, dementia has jumped from the fourth to the second leading cause of death in Australia – and for Australian women it has overtaken heart disease to become the top cause of death.


“With more than 436,000 Australians living with dementia and an estimated 1.45 million people involved in the care of someone with dementia, it is clearly one of the biggest public health challenges facing Australia,” said Maree McCabe, CEO of Dementia Australia.


McCabe highlights the urgent need for more investment into dementia awareness, research, treatment and care to address this major public health problem.



Not a normal part of aging


While memory and cognition decline with age – along with other physical faculties – dementia is not a normal part of aging.


Most common after the age of 65, dementia is a constellation of symptoms that affect brain function. It is a progressive disease with debilitating effects on thinking, memory, emotions, behaviour and ability to carry out daily activities.


Alzheimer’s disease is its most common form. Other versions include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, Huntington’s disease, and alcohol-related dementia (Korsakoff’s syndrome – caused by vitamin B deficiency).


These all have different causes, and an early diagnosis is essential to try and identify if symptoms are treatable.


More importantly, many cases of dementia can be prevented.



Preventing dementia


It is estimated that a staggering one third to half of dementia cases can be prevented by changes in lifestyle behaviours – unhealthy habits that can slowly develop into dementia over an extended period of time.


A recent study conducted brain scans on 135 people over a 20-year period. Results showed that people with higher cholesterol had more white matter damage to the brain, suggesting poorer cognitive function and greater risk of dementia – independently of age, education and genetic dementia risk.


Lead researcher, Cassandra Szoeke, director of the Healthy Ageing Program at the University of Melbourne, says the effects are substantial, and are reinforced by another study that found the number of brain cells at age 50 can predict cognitive ability 10 years later.


Other new research that followed older adults for 15 years has shown that hardening of the arteries is a strong predictor of dementia risk.


These findings are consistent with studies showing that a healthy Mediterranean diet, high in plant foods and low in processed food, can lower risk of both heart disease and dementia.


Promising research also suggests that pine bark extract can help ameliorate cognitive decline via its antioxidant properties, and protein might also help prevent dementia.


Compelling evidence tells us that regular physical activity is an important way to stay physically and mentally healthy – even incidental daily activities and walking all add up.


And for people with dementia and restricted mobility, personalised exercise can also lift some of the burden, so it’s never too late to get moving.






Protein could help mitigate disability in ageing

Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Dec 16, 2018 in Aging, Mobility, Muscle, Protein, Sarcopenia

A new study has found that adults over 84 years who eat more protein are less likely to suffer disability, which is a significant problem in this growing age group.


Researchers took food diaries from 722 community-dwelling adults in the UK and measured disability according to difficulty performing daily activities like moving around the house, getting in and out of a chair, shopping, walking and climbing stairs.


Progression of disability, followed up 18 months, 3 and 5 years later, fell into four distinct categories, from very low to severe.


Results showed that adults who ate more protein were less likely to become disabled over the 5-year follow-up than those with lower protein intake, after factoring in gender, education, physical activity, cognition and chronic diseases.



Why protein matters


Lead author of the study, Dr Nuno Mendonca, told Nutrition Insight, “We believe that the largest benefit of protein consumption is due to delaying muscle mass and strength loss.”


Protein is critical for maintaining lean muscle mass, needed for strength and mobility, and healthy bone density. Not only that, if protein stores are low, the liver will draw on the muscle’s protein stores to maintain energy levels between meals.


Declining muscle mass – which can lead to sarcopenia – has also been associated with diabetes, poor lung function, and heart disease, and may even help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.


Dietary protein also has a multitude of other important bodily functions including formation of enzymes and hormones, transporting molecules through the bloodstream, manufacturing antibodies and regulating acid-alkaline levels.



How much protein?


Adults in the study who consumed 1g protein per kg of body weight each day were more likely to have lower disability, supporting calls to increase recommended protein intakes.


For a 58 kg person, that could easily be met by eating 2 eggs for breakfast, 100g yoghurt with lunch and a 100g serve of salmon for dinner – all soft foods for people with dentition or swallowing difficulties.


For adults with poor appetite, eating small meals with protein shakes for morning and afternoon tea will help boost protein intake.


It’s important to note that protein needs increase when the body is stressed by infection, burns, cancer or injury.


And to maximise muscle mass and strength, the benefits of regular physical activity in conjunction with protein intake cannot be underestimated.





Ageism in an ageing world

Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Nov 8, 2018 in Aging

If you ask the average young person how old is ‘old’, they would say over 50. Ask an older person and they would say over 65.


To complicate things further, chronological age is not necessarily the same as biological, social or psychological age. Some 65-year-olds might look, feel and act younger than someone who is 50.


In any case, the discrepancy in perceptions of ageing fuels stereotypes, one of the issues at the heart of ‘ageism’ – prejudice against older people that causes discrimination.


Our “youth-obsessed culture” doesn’t help, worshipping glossy images of young people and pushing treatments and lotions to hide grey hair and iron out wrinkles.


According to gerontologist Robert Butler, ageism – like racism or sexism – sets people apart from other groups. It allows “the younger generations to see older people as different than themselves; thus they subtly cease to identify with their elders as human beings.”


Ageism pervades our culture and language, as Associate Professor Briony Dow observes, with attitudes like “stupid older drivers.” It creates all manner of discrimination including housing and services. In the workplace, ageism causes unfair hiring, training, retention, promotion and work assignments.


In the media, old people tend to be portrayed as forgetful, frail, slow, helpless and sick, according to a survey of over 2,000 older adults. These prevailing stereotypes would now be frowned on with different races or genders.


For decades, many aged care residents have even been abused or neglected, leading to a long overdue royal commission.



The growing old


Unlike sexism or racism, ageism affects us all directly. Why? Because, if we’re not struck by lightning, a fatal accident or disease in the meantime, all of us will be old one day – whatever age that is.


And the number of people aged 65 and over is set to double between 2009 and 2020. In fact, this cohort is set to exceed the number of children under 5 for the first time in history by 2020, according to Dow.


This growing aging demographic is causing retirement ages to increase while pensions are threatened as society struggles to support older adults. But their recognition or protection is not yet explicitly reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Even where workplaces have put equal opportunities policies into place, they don’t necessarily align with attitudes, behaviour and practice.



Honouring age


Honouring all people, young and old, is pivotal to a truly civilised society. It acknowledges not only everyone’s fundamental humanity, but older adults’ contribution, raising and nurturing of children, and years of hard work.


“Each time we see an older person, we need to imagine them as our future self, and rather than recoil from their wrinkles or infirmities, applaud their resilience. We need to re-humanise older people,” says British writer Anne Karpf.


Importantly, older adults bring a wealth of wisdom, resilience and maturity that can come with greater experience and lived years if we take the time to slow down and listen to them.


In the workplace, older adults can contribute their knowledge to help younger people handle complex or emotionally challenging situations that they are not yet equipped to deal with.


It’s time to revisit policies and attitudes to reflect that.


Meanwhile, some baby boomers are actively embracing retirement as they reinvent themselves in their “third age”, “encore stage” or “unretirement”.


Are you game to take stock of your attitude to ageing? You can explore it via the Attitudes to Ageing Questionnaire in the video or link below.





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