The makeup of our diet has a much stronger impact on ageing and metabolic health than drugs, a new study has found.
A pre-clinical study by the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre has suggested that nutrition, including overall calories and macronutrient balance, can better protect the body against ageing, obesity, heart disease, immune dysfunction, and risk of metabolic diseases than anti-ageing drugs.
Therefore, maintaining a healthy diet could be more effective than drugs in keeping conditions like diabetes, stroke, and heart disease at bay.
“Diet is a powerful medicine,” said Professor Stephen Simpson, senior author and academic director of the Charles Perkins Centre.
“However, presently drugs are administered without consideration of whether and how they might interact with our diet composition—even when these drugs are designed to act in the same way, and on the same nutrient-signalling pathways as diet.”
The research conducted in mice showed drugs commonly used to treat diabetes and slow down ageing such as metformin, rapamycin, and resveratrol, can also target the same biochemical pathways as nutrients. However, they dampened the cell’s metabolic response to diet.
“We discovered dietary composition had a far more powerful effect than drugs, which largely dampened responses to diet rather than reshaped them,” Simpson said.
“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.”
Researchers observed that calorie intake and the balance of macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) in the diet are closely associated with the liver, which is a key organ in the regulation of metabolism.
Meanwhile, protein and total calorie intake had a particularly powerful effect not just on metabolic pathways, but also on fundamental processes that control the way our cells function.
For example, the amount of protein eaten influenced activity in the mitochondria, which are the part of cells that produce energy.
This creates a downstream effect, as the amount of protein and dietary energy eaten influences how accurately cells translate their genes into the different proteins needed to help cells function properly and to make new cells.
These two fundamental processes are linked to ageing.
Lead author Prof. David Le Couteur of Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health said this result added another piece to the puzzle in the current understanding of the mechanisms that link “what we eat” with “how we age.”
“We all know what we eat influences our health, but this study showed how food can dramatically influence many of the processes operating in our cells. This gives us insights into how diet impacts on health and ageing,” he said.
The team’s research has previously demonstrated the protective role of diet and specific combinations of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates against ageing, obesity, heart disease, immune dysfunction, and risk of metabolic diseases like diabetes.
The findings were published in Cell Metabolism.