Nature has provided us with exquisite bodies and food to feed them – and much as medicine tries to trump it, nutrition continues to prevail.
Recently, a study reported that prescribing food could be more effective – and cheaper – than drugs in delivering health benefits for chronic ailments such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Now, new research shines more light on why diet is important, finding that it could be more potent than drugs in preventing these conditions and preserving metabolic health in aging.
Diet as protection
The pre-clinical study, conducted in mice, found that the balance of macronutrients and overall calories was more powerful at promoting healthy aging than three common anti-aging drugs.
Drugs are designed to target biochemical pathways. The thing is that nature has designed nutrients to impact those pathways, with complex interactions between them to achieve optimal metabolic health.
The researchers aimed to compare the impact of diet and drugs on these pathways and determine whether their interactions impacted their efficacy. Diet trumped drugs.
“We discovered dietary composition had a far more powerful effect than drugs, which largely dampened responses to diet rather than reshaped them,” said senior author Professor Stephen Simpson in a press release.
“Given humans share essentially the same nutrient-signalling 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.”
How food impacts aging
His team studied the effects of 40 different treatments with varying levels of macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates), calories and drug components on liver function, a fundamental organ involved in metabolism.
They used a novel framework to explore the complex interactions and combinations of nutrients on health and disease. This is a major advance on research that typically focus on single nutrients in isolation.
Results showed that protein and total calorie intake were particularly important for regulating metabolic pathways and key cell functions.
Protein levels, for example, impacted the activity of mitochondria – the cell’s powerhouse that produces all-important energy. In turn, this influenced the genetic translation of protein into the vital processes of cell function and synthesis, which are both associated with aging.
Drugs, on the other hand, tended to diminish the cells’ response to diet.
The results add fuel to the fight against the pervasive domination of health and medical training by pharmaceutical companies.