What the Latest Research Says about Adding Healthy Years to Your Life

Matt Fuchs wrote . . . . . . . . .

Death comes for us all. But recent research points to interventions in diet, exercise and mental outlook that could slow down aging and age-related diseases – without risky biohacks such as unproven gene therapies. A multidisciplinary approach involving these evidence-based strategies “could get it all right,” said Valter Longo, a biochemist who runs the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

There’s a debate, however, about how much we can increase our longevity. All humans share 99.9 percent of their genes. This explains why even “super-agers,” born with tiny genetic differences that promote longevity, almost never surpass 110. (Jeanne Louise Calment of France was an outlier, living until the age of 122, the current record.) Some animals make it well beyond that mark, according to Jan Vijg, a molecular geneticist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Scientists know just one way for humans to live 170 years like a giant tortoise: become a giant tortoise.

Some experts do find it likely that someone will set a record for our species by the end of this century. Statisticians have observed a “mortality plateau” for very old people; although the chance of dying in a given year goes up with age, the odds seem to stop increasing after 105. Beyond this plateau, it’s basically a coin toss every year: Heads you’ll see your next birthday, tails you won’t.

But the mortality plateau is often debated. Even if it’s true that the risk of death levels off, this won’t necessarily result in super-agers living longer than before. Susan Alberts, a Duke University primatologist, published a paper that compared the human rate of aging with other primates. The maximum human life expectancy has increased by about three months per year since the mid-1800s, but that can be explained by fewer early and midlife deaths. Alberts found that the rate of decline during old age has stayed the same, mirroring other species. She believes that maximum human life span could be extended by continuing to “avert early and midlife deaths,” which simply increases the pool of people who could live a really long time.

Time will tell who’s right regarding the life span of our species. What’s clear is that certain lifestyles help individuals live longer than they otherwise would – including the genetically blessed. Harvard researchers found that healthy habits add nearly 15 years of life expectancy. “That’s over $100 trillion in health-care savings,” said Harvard biologist David Sinclair.

Not enough Americans can access healthy lifestyles, however, and we’re getting sick and dying earlier across economic levels compared with other countries. People under 65 in the richest areas of the United States have higher mortality than those in the poorest areas of Europe, according to a study published in September. “We’re going to pay if we don’t do something about this rising tide of disabled people,” said Judith Campisi, a biochemist at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.

Findings from longevity research could support better health in old age, with fewer age-related diseases and disabilities. And interestingly, many scientists believe that a certain amount and type of stress can help, thanks to evolution. As Sinclair wrote in his 2019 book, “Lifespan”: “Our genes didn’t evolve for a life of pampered comfort. A little stress to induce hormesis once in a while likely goes a long way.”

“Hormesis” is a process in which various stressors — such as those related to diet and exercise — seem to activate genes that slow down cell growth and aging.

Using food to trick yourself

Stress that’s good for longevity can be caused by nutrition. Ideally, our ancestors enjoyed protein-rich red meat for peak energy and performance. But when hunting expeditions failed, people resorted to eating hardy plants. Today, our bodies still infer a state of scarcity if we consume lots of vegetables, switching on the longevity genes. Indeed, such a diet is associated with longer lives, according to the Harvard study. Becoming a full-fledged vegetarian probably isn’t necessary, but, to maximize what longevity experts call “healthspan,” at least 50 percent of protein should come from vegetable sources, Longo said.

He advises getting other proteins mostly from fatty fish while moderating your intake of starchy carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes. Research has shown that older people who routinely devour such carbs may be more likely to become cognitively impaired. Try to replace them sometimes with foods such as lentils or extra vegetables, which have more fiber and minerals than refined carbs, said Kris Verburgh, a nutrigerontologist and author of “The Longevity Code.”

Another signal of scarcity that seems to switch on longevity genes is the restriction of all foods, which has been shown by decades of animal studies to lengthen life span. Although water-only fasting over several days can be dangerous, “fasting mimicking” diets — very low-calorie five-day eating plans that trick the body into thinking it’s fasting while allowing some foods and nutrients — have been shown to be safer. Longo believes such diets “will play a major part in maximizing longevity.”

Research continues on various fasting regimens. In a preprint review, Matt Kaeberlein, a biogerontologist at the University of Washington, found limited evidence that avoiding food during specific windows of the day, without dropping overall calorie intake, increases life span in mice. When calories are reduced, some genetic strains of mice seem to benefit, but others actually die faster. Calorie restriction “could enhance longevity in some people while shortening lifespan in others,” Kaeberlein wrote.

“We’re beginning to find faults with some extreme diets,” Campisi said. The best approach, she said, “is dietary restriction without malnutrition.” The real benefit of fasting, she added, might simply come from losing weight. “Obesity is a risk factor for inflammation,” and chronic, low-grade inflammation can accelerate aging in a process known as inflammaging.

Sinclair eats just once per day, at dinnertime. “When you eat is perhaps more important than what you eat,” he said, referring to animal studies. “It’s easy to say mice aren’t humans, but there are some broad lessons.”

Exercising, but in moderation

Exercise can further simulate our ancestors’ stressful environments, some experts say, which can dupe your genes into extending your span of health. Just don’t do too much.

In August, the Mayo Clinic published research suggesting an optimal amount of exercise: People who played sports for 2.6 to 4.5 hours per week since the 1990s were about 40 percent less likely to have died than those who exercised less often. Cardio workouts may extend longevity by multiplying mitochondria, the “powerhouses” within cells. When scientists damage mitochondria in mice, the animals die faster, and mitochondrial dysfunction results in inflammaging in humans, Campisi said.

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, may be particularly effective in adding to longevity. K. Sreekumaran Nair, a Mayo endocrinologist, found that 12 weeks of HIIT reversed many age-related differences in how older people synthesize proteins, buffering their mitochondria. Strength training may also partially reverse aspects of aging.

As with fasting, just don’t go overboard. “Some young guys want to do too much of everything,” Nair said. “There’s no data that working out beyond a certain level gives you better mitochondria.” Being very aerobically fit may reduce mortality risk, but the August paper suggests a Goldilocks sweet spot; exercising more than 10 hours per week was linked to shorter life spans. Previous research has shown an association between extreme exercise and health problems, such as premature aging of the heart.

Nair suggests doing 35 minutes of HIIT three days per week; doing two nonconsecutive days of strength training, focusing on core muscles, arms and legs, with three sets for each muscle group; and taking walks of 7,000 to 10,000 steps on the other two days. He also recommends trying to get at least three minutes of movement after every hour of sitting.

But keep in mind that these diet and exercise regimens can’t magically undo a lifetime of mistakes. A young person’s lifestyle “will echo for decades,” Sinclair warned.

Beyond diet and exercise

Sinclair noted another driver of longevity: long-term, loving relationships. In a nearly 80-year study, researchers found that the most important factor in a long, healthy life was having a close partner. Lynne Charnay, a 96-year-old actress who still performs onstage, attributes her longevity to marital bliss — a double dose of it. “I’ve had not one fabulous husband, but two!” Boxing regularly with her personal trainer in New York doesn’t hurt, either.

Another protective factor: optimism. In 2019, Boston University psychologist Lewina Lee found that optimism was associated with exceptional longevity. Take heart, Debbie Downers: Optimism can be cultivated through interventions. “While optimism is about 25 percent heritable,” Lee told me, “the rest is attributable to environmental influences.” That may partly explain why people entrenched in poverty, with little reason for optimism, die at much younger ages.

But residents of lower-income areas also have limited access to the heathy foods and opportunities cited above. That’s why experts on aging have called for policies that improve access to healthy lifestyles, especially as findings about exercise, nutrition and other anti-aging interventions continue to evolve, promising more years of health to those who can afford them.

“We’re still in the Wright brothers’ days of flight when it comes to longevity,” Sinclair said. “We still have a 747 and a Concorde to come, I hope, within our lifetimes.”

Source: Anchorage Daily News

As You Age, Your ‘Microbiome’ Changes

Denise Mann wrote . . . . . . . . .

The key to eternal youth may lie in our guts.

Advancing age seems to change the makeup of the microbiome in the small intestine, and in the future, it may be possible to tweak this bacterial milieu and boost longevity, new research suggests.

The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material. The diversity of these organisms is believed to play a role in promoting health and well-being.

With normal aging, the bacteria in the small intestine shift from microbes that prefer oxygen (aerobic bacteria) to those that can survive with less oxygen (anaerobic bacteria). There is also an increase in coliform bacteria in relation to other organisms with advancing age, the study showed.

The new study is observational and not designed to say how, or even if, these changes affect aging. “We don’t have correlations here in terms of cause and effect,” said study co-author Dr. Ruchi Mathur. She is an endocrinologist and director of the Cedars-Sinai Diabetes Outpatient Treatment & Education Center in Los Angeles.

For this study, the researchers looked at microbial changes that occur in the small intestine with chronological age, medication use, and diseases in people aged 18 to 80.

The small intestine is located further up the digestive tract and is about 20 feet long. “It is where really cool stuff happens. It’s more metabolically active and may play a greater role in human health and diseases than the large bowel,” Mathur said.

Previously, the same team mapped the microbiome of the entire gastrointestinal system and noted pronounced differences along the digestive tract.

When researchers compared bacterial populations in the small intestines based on age alone, the oldest individuals in the study had a more significant shift from aerobic to anaerobic bacteria and a greater proportion of coliform bacteria compared with their younger counterparts.

Coliforms can become too abundant in the small bowel with age and exert a negative influence on the rest of the microbial population. “They are like weeds in a garden,” Mathur said.

The number of medications a person took and the number of diseases they had were associated with other changes in bacterial diversity in the small intestine. “Certain microbial populations are influenced more by medications, while others are more affected by certain diseases,” she said. “We have identified specific microbes that appear to be only influenced by the chronological age of the person.”

If future studies validate these findings, treatments targeting the bacterial changes linked to aging alone may help prolong life. “If we can tease out the organisms that increase with chronological age, we can develop specific targets to manipulate them and see if we can make changes in longevity,” Mathur said.

The next step is to see if the findings hold in people aged 80 to 100, she said.

Many people take probiotic supplements to help reset the balance between good and bad bacteria in their gut to improve their health. But “it’s way too early to consider taking probiotics to manipulate the bacteria in the small intestine,” Mathur said.

The findings were published in the Cell Reports.

“This study helps further our understanding of the gut microbiome and what happens to it during the aging process,” said Dr. Elena Ivanina, director of neurogastroenterology and motility at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

More research is needed before drawing any conclusions about how the gut microbiome affects longevity. The study results start a conversation that someday may lead to anti-aging and metabolic therapy through microbiome modulation, said Ivanina, who has no ties to the new research.

Source: HealthDay

Study: Higher Levels of Education and Higher Income Mean Better Health for Older Adults

A new cross-national study comparing multimorbidity disease cluster patterns, prevalence and health risk factors across Ireland, England, The United States and Canada, reveal important findings that could have health implications for public health policy.

The study led by TILDA: the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing offers fresh insight to help health authorities better understand the complex nature of multimorbidity (a co-occurrence of two or more chronic diseases), and to identify and improve appropriate prevention and management strategies for treating these diseases across countries. All four countries ranked globally in the top 14 of the 2018 UN Human Development Index, allowing for suitable comparison across the range of public healthcare delivery systems of North America and Europe.

The study investigates lifetime prevalence of 10 common chronic, cardiovascular and mental health conditions among 62,111 older adults aged 52-85 years of age across the four countries, and uncovers how differences in demographics, socio-economic status and health behaviours affect the combination of diseases within and across four countries. The findings are a good news story for Ireland, who had the lowest prevalence for 6 out of 10 diseases compared to the other countries.

Multimorbidity is a term used to describe conditions that affect people living with two or more long-term or chronic diseases and is associated with poor health outcomes such as physical and functional decline, mortality, decreased quality of life and increased healthcare use and cost.

WHAT DID THE STUDY SHOW?

The study found that multimorbidity among those aged 52-85 years old was highest in the U.S. at 60.7% and lowest in Ireland at 38.6%. Five predominant multimorbidity patterns for each country were identified in the study, with researchers discovering that socio-economic disparity existed across all four countries, where those who had higher levels of education and higher income in general had better health. Elevated Body Mass Index (BMI) was also identified as a risk factor for high disease burden and multimorbidity across all countries.

KEY FINDINGS

  • The U.S. had significantly higher prevalence of hypertension, stroke, angina, heart attacks, arthritis, cancer, lung disease and psychiatric illnesses.
  • Despite the U.S. spending more per capita on health care than Ireland, Canada, and England, and it had the highest prevalence for 9 out of 10 common chronic, cardiovascular, and mental health conditions when compared to Ireland.
  • Ireland had the lowest prevalence for 6 out of 10 diseases compared to the other countries.
  • The U.S. had a higher prevalence of multimorbidity even after adjustments for age, sex, BMI, income, employment status, education, alcohol consumption and smoking history.
  • The odds of having diabetes in the U.S. was double that of Ireland or England even after controlling for factors such as age, sex, education, income, employment status, B.M.I., smoking and alcohol consumption.
  • Ireland had the highest prevalence of osteoporosis of all four countries.
  • The link between health and wealth was present across all four countries but was most pronounced in the U.S., with higher income and higher education levels associated with lower disease prevalence and lower probability associated with multimorbidity clusters.

As the world’s population is ageing and expanding rapidly, identifying early treatment and management of disease is a priority for healthcare policymakers and providers. While patients living with multimorbidity often have complex medical needs, this can result in challenges to health system capacity worldwide, requiring significant healthcare resources to meet cost, and provision of care. Preventing and improving how multimorbidity and age-related diseases are managed and treated is crucial to enhance development of sustainable and safe models of care.

Dr Belinda Hernandez, senior research fellow at TILDA, and lead author said:

“Chronic illnesses are the leading cause of death worldwide. These conditions rarely happen in isolation and commonly occur together which is known as multimorbidity. This is a particularly important issue for our health care service and for public health policy in ageing societies as multimorbid people tend to have more complex health care needs and poorer health outcomes such as reduced physical functioning and higher rates of mortality. The findings of this study can be used to better understand the complex nature of multimorbidity and identify appropriate prevention and management strategies for treating the unique patterns of non-communicable disease in these respective countries.”

Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Principal Investigator of TILDA and co- author said:

“The findings of this study clearly outline the health concerns that affect our ageing population and are particularly relevant for those tasked with strengthening healthcare delivery in Ireland and further afield. Having an informed understanding of disease patterns for a given country can bring about a better understanding of the complex nature of multimorbidity and disease. Furthermore, research shows that preventing the development of chronic diseases may be beneficial in delaying or preventing dementia-related disease or cognitive impairment. We know that Ireland has the second highest rate of obesity in the EU, while dementia rates are estimated to more than double in the next 25 years, to over 150,000 by 2045. This research clearly outlines why targeted health interventions and campaigns are needed to encourage healthier habits and behaviours to help prevent or delay the development of disease, while supporting better health and longevity for those who age.”

Source: Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Age and Aging Have Critical Effects on the Gut Microbiome

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai have found that aging produces significant changes in the microbiome of the human small intestine distinct from those caused by medications or illness burden. The findings have been published in the journal Cell Reports.

“By teasing out the microbial changes that occur in the small bowel with age, medication use and diseases, we hope to identify unique components of the microbial community to target for therapeutics and interventions that could promote healthy aging,” said Ruchi Mathur, MD, the study’s principal investigator.

Research exploring the gut microbiome, and its impact on health, has relied predominantly on fecal samples, which do not represent the entire gut, according to Mathur. In their study, investigators from Cedars-Sinai’s Medically Associated Science and Technology (MAST) Program analyzed samples from the small intestine–which is over 20 feet in length and has the surface area of a tennis court–for examination of the microbiome and its relationship with aging.

“This study is the first of its kind to examine the microbial composition of the small intestine of subjects 18 years of age to 80. We now know that certain microbial populations are influenced more by medications, while others are more affected by certain diseases. We have identified specific microbes that appear to be only influenced by the chronological age of the person,” said Mathur, an endocrinologist and director of the Diabetes Outpatient Treatment & Education Center.

The 21st century has been referred to as the “era of the gut microbiome” as scientists turn considerable attention to the role trillions of gut bacteria, fungi and viruses may play in human health and disease. The microbiome is the name given to the genes that live in these cells. Studies have suggested that disturbances in the constellations of the microbial universe may lead to critical illnesses, including gastroenterological diseases, diabetes, obesity, and some neurological disorders.

While researchers know that microbial diversity in stool decreases with age, Cedars-Sinai investigators identified bacteria in the small bowel they refer to as “disruptors” that increase and could be troublesome.

“Coliforms are normal residents of the intestine. We found that when these rod-shaped microbes become too abundant in the small bowel–as they do as we get older–they exert a negative influence on the rest of the microbial population. They are like weeds in a garden,” said study co-author Gabriela Leite, PhD.

Investigators also found that as people age, the bacteria in the small intestine change from microbes that prefer oxygen to those that can survive with less oxygen, something they hope to understand as the research continues.

“Our goal is to identify and fingerprint the small intestinal microbial patterns of human health and disease. Given the important role the small bowel plays in absorption of nutrients, changes in the microbiome in this location of the gut may have a greater impact on human health, and warrants further study,” said Mark Pimentel, MD, director of the MAST program and a co-author of the study.

Source: Cedars Sinai

Study: Vaccines’ Power Against COVID Hospitalization Fades in Elderly

The ability of COVID-19 vaccines to protect adults older than 75 against hospitalization appears to wane over time, but still remained 80% effective as of the end of July, new federal data shows.

The same data indicates that vaccines continued to offer the same or nearly the same level of protection against hospitalization for people up to the age of 75, and the shots remained 94% effective among adults ages 18-49, CBS News reported.

Hospitalization rates among fully vaccinated people were higher among older residents of nursing homes and among those with underlying conditions such as weakened immune systems, according to data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Getting vaccinated remains crucial: Previewing the data’s release earlier this month, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted that “COVID-19-associated hospitalization rates were 17 times higher in unvaccinated,”CBS News reported.

The fresh data was presented Monday as the CDC’s independent panel of vaccine experts met to discuss federal plans for a potential booster dose of COVID-19 vaccines next month.

While the findings suggest a slight decline in the vaccines’ ability to protect older and vulnerable people against severe disease, the CDC says reaching conclusions about how long protection lasts in these groups is challenging, CBS News reported.

“It actually may be very difficult for us to disentangle time, since vaccination and the impact of the Delta variant, especially in some populations that we know were vaccinated earlier in the time course. So, if we see waning in the last couple of months, it could be really difficult,” Dr. Sara Oliver, a leading CDC vaccine official, told the vaccine panel.

Another CDC analysis released on the weekend stated that even though 16.1% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in June had been fully vaccinated, the vaccines appear to remain “highly effective in preventing hospitalization,” CBS News reported.

On Monday, the CDC said it will schedule another meeting of the panel in mid-September to discuss more data on booster shots, a meeting that will likely be held before the Biden administration’s planned roll-out of booster shots the week of Sept. 20.

Previously, top U.S. health officials said they were planning for the possibility that third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would be needed eight months after people received their first two shots, but recent data from the vaccine makers and other countries suggest booster shots might be required sooner than six months from vaccination, CBS News reported.

Source: HealthDay