The Longevity Diet: Aging

Rounding out our Longevity Diet series, let's recap the Longevity Diet, explore why it was developed and link it to aging and chronic disease! 

 

What is the Longevity Diet and how was it developed?

The start of Dr. Longo’s journey to study the diet and lifestyle of centenarians grew from a fascination of what can make us all live longer healthier lives.1  One reason that Dr. Longo began to study the lifestyle of centenarians because his relatives that were living in America began to develop diabetes and heart disease. The development of these diseases were uncommon to where he grew up in Italy, as people were living past their 90’s without chronic diseases.1 Dr. Longo wanted to find the connection of  why many centenarians do not develop chronic diseases and what caused them to  be able to live long healthy lives.1

The Longevity Diet has been backed by three decades of research and has been created based on centenarian studies, clinical studies, epidemiology studies,  and juventology research. The centenarian studies included research on determining what kind of lifestyle that the centenarians had or still have. Dr. Longo researched the foods that centenarians ate growing up and what they still eat now. He found that centenarians ate larger meals during the day and smaller ones in the evenings. He also studied their physical activity throughout their lives, in which he found centenarians to be highly active in their youth and in their old age. The jobs (gardening), the festivities (dancing), and the locations that the centernians lived in contributed to them being physically active.  With the findings from the lifestyle of the centenarians, Dr Longo conducted basic juventology research, which included animal models and tested what he found in clinical trials. He also conducted epidemiology research, which helped him determine  the causes or if there are any risk factors for diseases in certain populations.  Through this research, he found that eating a diet that is higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein is what lead these centenarians to live longer healthier lives. Their diets consisted of mostly plant based foods, and some fish options.1 

Connection between the Longevity Diet and Aging

You may be wondering how following the guidelines of the longevity diet relates to aging? Well, studies have found that high intakes of protein have been shown to increase the IGF (insulin like growth factor) and TOR-S6K growth receptors. This is said to increase the process of aging. Having a reduced insulin like growth factor has been found to extend life expectancy and reduces the rate of type 2 diabetes and cancer.2 It has been found that the protein, methionine, plays a role in the aging process. Reducing this protein can help to reduce the insulin like growth factor, which can slow down the aging process.2 

Connection between the Longevity Diet and Chronic Disease

When looking at the centenarian studies, there was a common pattern among the type of diet that centenarians had throughout their lives, which has been linked to a low prevalence of chronic diseases, such as obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  In the first 80 years of their lives, their diets mainly consisted of plant sources, such as legumes, vegetables, low amounts of protein coming from fish, and the diet was very low in saturated and trans fats. The diet they had also was low in sugars and processed foods.1 This is why the longevity diet is made up of these dietary patterns, as people are living until they are 100 years old or older, free of chronic disease. The Longevity Diet macronutrients are explained here. Being free of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes helps to increase the life span. Studies have found that increased intakes of animal protein sources (red and processed meats), which are on the higher side of saturated fat content, have been found to increase the risk of the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic kidney disease, and  type 2 diabetes.2 On the other hand, plant- based protein sources have been found to help reduce the risks of developing these chronic diseases. Plant based diets that are low in animal protein and low in unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats), have been found to help lower metabolic parameters such as, cholesterol, triglycerides (fat in blood), blood sugar, and blood pressure. It is important to have these metabolic parameters within normal ranges as excessive amounts have been linked to the development of cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes.3 The prevalence of type 2 diabetes have been found to be the lowest among those who consume a diet rich in plant sources and for those who have type 2 diabetes have shown to have better glycemic controls by having a diet rich in plant sources.3-4 

So, you may be wondering how exactly does a plant based diet reduce the risk of getting cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes? Well, let’s dive into what nutrients that plant foods (whole-grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, vegetables, and fruits) provide our bodies with. These foods provide us with great sources of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and are low in fat.4-5 Studies have found that fiber can improve heart health as it has the ability to lower LDL cholesterol (cholesterol that we want less of).5-6The antioxidant content of plant foods, specifically in fruits have been shown to reduce inflammation which helps improve heart health.5

Since the longevity diet also includes room for fish consumption, the fat content in the recommended fishes (salmon, sardines, anchovies, etc) help to improve cardiovascular health. Studies have found that dietary omega- 3 fatty acids found in fish and plant sources can help lower blood lipid levels ( in excess amounts it can harm the heart), blood pressure and  can increase the good cholesterol levels (HDL cholesterol), which are all beneficial for the heart.7

Overall, the longevity diet has been designed to prolong the lifespan and healthspan. Low protein intakes help to slow down the aging process, while the types of protein as well as consuming whole-grains, vegetables, and fruit helps to decrease the risk of developing chronic diseases. Decreasing the risk of getting chronic disease, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease will help to increase life expectancy.  

References:

  1. Longo V. The Longevity Diet: Discover the New Science behind Stem Cell Activation and Regeneration to Slow Aging, Fight Disease, and Optimize Weight. New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House; 2018. 
  2. Kitada M, Ogura Y, Monno I, Koya D. The impact of dietary protein intake on longevity and metabolic health. EBioMedicine. 2019;43:632-640. doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2019.04.005
  3. Kahleova H, Levin S, Barnard N. Cardio-Metabolic Benefits of Plant-Based Diets. Nutrients. 2017;9(8):848. Published 2017 Aug 9. doi:10.3390/nu9080848
  4. Toumpanakis A, Turnbull T, Alba-Barba I. Effectiveness of plant-based diets in promoting well-being in the management of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review. BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care. 2018;6(1). doi:10.1136/bmjdrc-2018-000534.
  5. Slavin JL, Lloyd B. Health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Adv Nutr. 2012;3(4):506-516. Published 2012 Jul 1. doi:10.3945/an.112.002154
  6. McRae MP. Dietary Fiber Is Beneficial for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses. J Chiropr Med. 2017;16(4):289-299. doi:10.1016/j.jcm.2017.05.005
  7. Chaddha A, Eagle KA. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Heart Health. Circulation. 2015;132(22). doi:10.1161/circulationaha.114.015176.