healthy aging

 Once again several studies found health benefits associated with drinking coffee daily - this time "reduced risk of death" in 2 studies, and in one study a reduced risk of gallbladder cancer.

Just keep in mind that the studies found associations, but did not establish that drinking coffee caused X (reduced risk of death) - so perhaps coffee drinkers differ in some still unknown way from non-coffee drinkers. But...so many studies are piling up showing an association with health benefits that it looks likely that it is actually the coffee causing the benefits. Both decaffeinated and regular coffee seem beneficial, and it doesn't matter how it is prepared (e.g., espresso, drip, cappuccino). (Earlier posts about coffee - here, here, here)

In the one study higher consumption of coffee was associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease in African Americans, Japanese Americans, Latinos, and whites. People who consumed a cup of coffee a day (decaffeinated or regular) were 12 percent less likely to die compared to those who didn't drink coffee, and those who drank two to three cups a day had an 18 percent reduced chance of death.

The conclusion of the other study of over half million adults in 10 European countries was similar: coffee drinking was associated with lower risk for death from "all causes", especially from circulatory diseases and diseases related to the digestive tract. This association held up among all the countries. The highest levels of consumption  group (3 cups or more of coffee per day)  had the lowest risk of death - as compared to those drinking none or less than 1 cup of coffee per day. However, the one negative result from drinking more than 3 cups of coffee daily was an increase in risk for ovarian cancer mortality in women (but only when compared to coffee non-drinkers).

From STAT News: Drink coffee? It won’t hurt you, and may reduce your risk of an early death

Good news, coffee drinkers: A couple of massive new studies that looked at hundreds of thousands of people for about 16 years finds that a few cups of coffee a day won’t hurt you and could lower your risk of dying prematurely. The studies reinforce previous findings that drinking an 8-ounce cup of joe (or three) won’t hurt you, but the authors of the new works and other experts say caveats abound.

Murphy told STAT his is the largest study on coffee and mortality to date. In the study, researchers with the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and Imperial College London tracked 521,000 adults from 10 European countries who self-reported their coffee consumption over an average of 16 years.... In investigating more than 40,000 deaths from this group, the team found that participants who fell into the highest 25 percent of coffee consumers had a lower risk of death due to any cause compared to non-coffee drinkers. They saw a reduced risk of early death by diseases related to the digestive and circulatory systems. The researchers also discovered a link between higher coffee consumption and lower risk of early death by lung cancer in men. And they also looked at suicide — completed suicides were lower for coffee drinkers, but only in men. [Original study.]

In a second study of 180,000 people tracked for an average of 16 years, University of Southern California investigators found drinking one to six cups of coffee per week led to a decreased risk of early death. The study was focused on non-white populations, andtheir findings proved consistent for coffee drinkers across racial and ethnic groups. One of the USC study’s senior authors, V. Wendy Setiawan... said coffee consumption may be linked a lower risk of early death for people with heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, and kidney disease.Drink one cup per day, and the risk of dying early from those diseases decreases by 12 percent, she said. [Original study.]

This 2016 study is from Medscape: Coffee Consumption and Risk of Gallbladder Cancer in a Prospective Study

Evidence indicates that coffee consumption may reduce the risk of gallstone diseasewhich is strongly associated with increased risk of gallbladder cancer. The association between coffee consumption and gallbladder cancer incidence was examined in a prospective cohort study of 72,680 Swedish adults (aged 45 − 83 years) who were free of cancer and reported their coffee consumption at baseline.....  In conclusion, coffee consumption was observed to be associated with a reduced risk of gallbladder cancer. A potential protective association between coffee consumption and risk of gallbladder cancer may be mediated via reduced gallstone formation or through other mechanisms such as reduction of oxidative damage and inflammation and regulation of DNA repair, phase II enzymatic activity, apoptosis, angiogenesis, and metastasis.

  Lately more and more research has been finding health benefits with frequent consumption of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). It is also a basic part of the popular Mediterranean diet - which emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes (beans), whole grains, some fish, and extra virgin olive oil. Now a study conducted by investigators at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, suggests that the olive oil in the Mediterranean diet probably promotes healthy brain aging. The researchers said: "Our study is the first demonstration that EVOO can beneficially affect memory, amyloid plaques, and tau pathology, the hallmark lesions in the brain of Alzheimer's patients."

But... note that they are taking findings from their study done on mice and hypothesizing that this is what is also going on in humans.  Their study used specially bred mice (and only 22 in total) - one group which received extra virgin olive oil in their food (starting at 6 months of age), and the other not. The researchers found that after a few months of this diet that there were differences between the 2 groups when tested at 12 months (which is also when they were euthanized). Note that mice are short lived and after 6 months they are considered "mature adults".

The researchgers now plan to test varying daily doses of EVOO on humans soon - this way they can see what the minimal dosage is for beneficial effects (if any), and if there is a maximal dosage where there are negative health effects. In the meantime, enjoy olive oil in your diet - looks like it will benefit your health in a number of ways (herehere, and here). From Medscape:

Olive Oil Key Ingredient in Alzheimer's Prevention?

Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) appears to protect memory and learning ability and reduces the formation of beta amyloid (Aβ) plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain — the classic hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease (AD) — new animal research shows. The study, conducted by investigators at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, suggests that it is the olive oil component of the Mediterranean diet that likely promotes healthy brain aging.... "And results are important enough to absolutely encourage people to consume greater amounts of EVOO. Given that it's been consumed for at least 2000 years, I do not anticipate any side effects," he added.

For the study, the investigators tested the potentially beneficial effects of EVOO on triple transgenic mice. These mice are specifically bred to develop key pathologic features of AD (Alzheimer's disese), including amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. The animals were divided into two groups. One group received EVOO-enriched chow, and the other received regular chow without EVOO. The olive oil was introduced into the diet when the mice were 6 months of age, before they began to develop symptoms of AD..... The mice were subjected to the same behavioral tests at both 9 and 12 months of age, after which they were euthanized and their brains were examined for the presence of key pathologic features of AD.

The researchers confirmed that mice fed the EVOO-enriched diet performed significantly better at both 9 and 12 months on tests designed to assess working memory, spatial memory, and learning abilities compared with mice fed regular chow. The researchers also found a statistically significant reduction in the amount of Aβ peptides deposited in the brains of the EVOO-treated animals compared with controls. There was also a significant reduction in the phosphorylated forms of tau in mice fed the EVOO-enriched chow compared to controls, although olive oil had no effect on total tau levels in the same region of the brain.

The investigators also examined whether the improvements in cognitive performance and brain pathology that were observed in EVOO-treated mice might be the result of an improvement in synaptic integrity. Once again, they found greater preservation in the integrity of the synapses between neurons in EVOO-fed mice compared with controls....  Furthermore, there was a dramatic increase in nerve cell autophagy activation in brain cells from the EVOO-fed animals compared with controls. Dr Pratico explained that autophagy is a mechanism by which cells digest proteins that are produced in excess or that are abnormal. In this particular animal model, autophagy digests and gets rid of both amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau.

"Thanks to the autophagy activation, memory and synaptic integrity were preserved, and the pathological effects in animals otherwise destined to develop Alzheimer's disease were significantly reduced. This is a very important discovery, since we suspect that a reduction in autophagy marks the beginning of Alzheimer's disease."

Image result for dark chocolate Chocolate lovers can rejoice - because another study, which was actually a review of other studies - found that frequent consumption of chocolate, cocoa, and cocoa flavanols (an ingredient of cocoa) is linked with beneficial health effects. These included cardiovascular benefits, and dose-dependent improvements in cognition, attention, and memory. In other words - the more frequently one eats chocolate and cocoa (especially dark chocolate), the more beneficial health effects. So eat and enjoy! From Medical Xpress:

Cocoa and chocolate are not just treats—they are good for your cognition

A balanced diet is chocolate in both hands - a phrase commonly used to justify one's chocolate snacking behavior. A phrase now shown to actually harbor some truth, as the cocoa bean is a rich source of flavanols: a class of natural compounds that has neuroprotective effects. In their recent review published in Frontiers in Nutrition, Italian researchers examined the available literature for the effects of acute and chronic administration of cocoa flavanols on different cognitive domains. In other words: what happens to your brain up to a few hours after you eat cocoa flavanols, and what happens when you sustain such a cocoa flavanol enriched diet for a prolonged period of time?

Although randomized controlled trials investigating the acute effect of cocoa flavanols are sparse, most of them point towards a beneficial effect on cognitive performance. Participants showed, among others, enhancements in working memory performance and improved visual information processing after having had cocoa flavanols. And for women, eating cocoa after a night of total sleep deprivation actually counteracted the cognitive impairment (i.e. less accuracy in performing tasks) that such a night brings about. Promising results for people that suffer from chronic sleep deprivation or work shifts.

The effects of relatively long-term ingestion of cocoa flavanols (ranging from 5 days up to 3 months) has generally been investigated in elderly individuals. It turns out that for them cognitive performance was improved by a daily intake of cocoa flavanols. Factors such as attention, processing speed, working memory, and verbal fluency were greatly affected. These effects were, however, most pronounced in older adults with a starting memory decline or other mild cognitive impairments.

And this was exactly the most unexpected and promising result according to authors Valentina Socci and Michele Ferrara from the University of L'Aquila in Italy. "This result suggests the potential of cocoa flavanols to protect cognition in vulnerable populations over time by improving cognitive performance. If you look at the underlying mechanism, the cocoa flavanols have beneficial effects for cardiovascular health and can increase cerebral blood volume in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. This structure is particularly affected by aging and therefore the potential source of age-related memory decline in humans."

So should cocoa become a dietary supplement to improve our cognition? "Regular intake of cocoa and chocolate could indeed provide beneficial effects on cognitive functioning over time. There are, however, potential side effects of eating cocoa and chocolate. Those are generally linked to the caloric value of chocolate, some inherent chemical compounds of the cocoa plant such as caffeine and theobromine, and a variety of additives we add to chocolate such as sugar or milk." Nonetheless, the scientists are the first to put their results into practice: "Dark chocolate is a rich source of flavanols. So we always eat some dark chocolate. Every day." [Original study.]

 A study of 60 million Americans 65 years old and older (the entire Medicare population) found that long-term exposure to airborne fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone at concentrations below current national standards increases the risk of premature death ("all cause mortality") even when the levels are below current national standards. This effect was most pronounced among racial minorities and people with low income. The national standards are called National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), and they are established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Note that PM2.5 refers to fine particles in the air smaller than 2.5 micrometers - these are truly small particles. It is thought that these tiny particles contribute to the development of potentially fatal diseases various ways - by causing chronic inflammation, and also because they slip past the body's defenses and can be absorbed deep into the lungs and bloodstream. They are not sneezed or coughed out the way larger natural particles (like airborne soil and sand) are removed from the body's airways.

These study results are a strong argument in support of the view that our air needs to be protected and standards need to be strengthened - not loosened. Earlier posts on this topic have found links between air pollution (especially fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers) and cognitive decline and dementia in older women, strokes, high blood pressure, an increase in death (especially cardiovascular disease), etc. From Medical Xpress:

Study of US seniors strengthens link between air pollution and premature death

A new study of 60 million Americans—about 97% of people age 65 and older in the United States—shows that long-term exposure to airborne fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone increases the risk of premature death, even when that exposure is at levels below the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) currently established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers found that men, blacks, and low-income populations had higher risk estimates from PM2.5 exposure compared with the national average, with blacks having mortality risks three times higher than the national average. The results showed that if the level of PM2.5 could be lowered by just 1 microgram per cubic meter (ug/m3) nationwide, about 12,000 lives could be saved every year. Similarly, if the level of ozone could be lowered by just 1 part per billion (ppb) nationwide, about 1,900 lives would be saved each year.

"This is a study of unprecedented statistical power because of the massive size of the study population. These findings suggest that lowering the NAAQS for fine particulate matter will produce important public health benefits, especially among self-identified racial minorities and people with low incomes," said Francesca Dominici, principal investigator of this study and professor of biostatistics at Harvard Chan School and co-director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative.

The researchers examined Medicare claims records of 60 million Americans 65+ over a seven-year period, representing 460 million person-years of follow-up. They also estimated air pollution levels at each 1 kilometer grid for the entire U.S. upon which the claims data could be overlaid and interpreted. .... By relying on this well-validated prediction model, the team was able to include subjects who live in unmonitored and less-populated areas so that the effects of air pollution on all 60 million people could be analyzed regardless of whether they lived in urban, suburban, or rural areas. "This study shows that although we think air quality in the United States is good enough to protect our citizens, in fact we need to lower pollution levels even further," said Schwartz. [Original study in New England Journal of Medicine.]

Image result for older couple holding hands Hah! Another study showing that YES, older adults have sex, and that more frequent sexual activity (as in at least weekly vs never or only monthly) may also be good for the brain and brain function in older adults. 73 people between the ages of 50 and 83 participated in this study. As the researchers wrote: "The current study demonstrates that older men and women who engage in regular sexual activity have better cognitive functioning than those who do not engage in sexual activity, or do so infrequently."

The researchers suggest that there could be biological reasons that sexual activity is beneficial - for example, it increases dopamine secretion. A number of researchers feel that the increased dopamine secretion from sexual activity is linked to improved working memory and executive function in older adults. But they admit that there could also be beneficial and "neuroprotective" effects from being involved in a social and physical relationship. At any rate, this was not a large study, and it can only show an "association", not definite cause. But other studies have similar findings - that overall cognitive scores are consistently higher in those who are sexually active compared to those than those who are not. From Science Daily:

Frequent sexual activity can boost brain power in older adults

More frequent sexual activity has been linked to improved brain function in older adults, according to a study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford. Researchers found that people who engaged in more regular sexual activity scored higher on tests that measured their verbal fluency and their ability to visually perceive objects and the spaces between them.

The study, published today in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences, involved 73 people aged between 50 and 83. Participants filled in a questionnaire on how often, on average, they had engaged in sexual activity over the past 12 months -- whether that was never, monthly or weekly -- as well as answering questions about their general health and lifestyle. The 28 men and 45 women also took part in a standardized test, which is typically used to measure different patterns of brain function in older adults, focusing on attention, memory, fluency, language and visuospatial ability.

It was these two sets of tests [verbal fluency and visuospatial ability] where participants who engaged in weekly sexual activity scored the most highly, with the verbal fluency tests showing the strongest effect. The results suggested that frequency of sexual activity was not linked to attention, memory or language. In these tests, the participants performed just as well regardless of whether they reported weekly, monthly or no sexual activity.

This study expanded on previous research from 2016, which found that older adults who were sexually active scored higher on cognitive tests than those who were not sexually active. But this time the research looked more specifically at the impact of the frequency of sexual activity (i.e. does it make a difference how often you engage in sexual activity) and also used a broader range of tests to investigate different areas of cognitive function. [Original study.]

 Once again a great reason to exercise - a study found that adults with the highest levels of weekly physical activity had the longest telomeres, which are markers of overall health and aging. Think of it this way: we all age, but some people seem young for their age, while others seem old for their age. This study looked at differences among groups of people at the cellular level.

The multi-year study looked at both physical activity levels of 5,823 adults and their telomeres. The adults provided DNA samples, from which the researchers measured telomere length. Telomeres are "protein caps positioned at the end of chromosomes". Aging causes telomeres to shorten and results in gradual cell deterioration - thus they are good markers of our biological age, that is, how we're aging (rather than just our chronological age). Study author Larry A. Tucker said “We know that, in general, people with shorter telomeres die sooner and are more likely to develop many of our chronic diseases. It's not perfect, but it's a very good index of biological aging.”

What causes telomeres to shrink faster?  Telomere shortening  can be hastened by things that result in inflammation and oxidative stress, such as obesity, smoking, poor diet, type 2 diabetes, and low socioeconomic levels. On the other hand, this study found that adults with high levels of physical activity had significantly longer telomeres. The longer telomeres found in the active adults reduced cellular aging by about 9 years, as compared to those adults who were sedentary or had low to medium levels of physical activity. Nine years less of biological aging is a lot! The shortest telomeres were in sedentary people.

How much physical activity should one aim for? The study found that activity levels in the study were measured in MET-minutes (metabolic equivalent minutes) - which can sound confusing, but can be achieved by incorporating exercise into daily routines, as well as also doing vigorous activities or exercises. In the present study, men had to attain >1887 MET-minutes per week and women >1375 to be included in the category with the highest activity levels (longest telomeres). It does mean several hours a week of physical activity, which can include gardening, bicycling, walking, vacuuming, exercising, running, etc. From Science Daily:

High levels of exercise linked to nine years of less aging at the cellular level

Despite their best efforts, no scientist has ever come close to stopping humans from aging. But new research from Brigham Young University reveals you may be able to slow one type of aging -- the kind that happens inside your cells. As long as you're willing to sweat. "Just because you're 40, doesn't mean you're 40 years old biologically," Tucker said. "We all know people that seem younger than their actual age. The more physically active we are, the less biological aging takes place in our bodies."

The study, published in the medical journal Preventive Medicine, finds that people who have consistently high levels of physical activity have significantly longer telomeres than those who have sedentary lifestyles, as well as those who are moderately activeTelomeres are the protein endcaps of our chromosomes. They're like our biological clock and they're extremely correlated with age; each time a cell replicates, we lose a tiny bit of the endcaps. Therefore, the older we get, the shorter our telomeres.

Exercise science professor Larry Tucker found adults with high physical activity levels have telomeres with a biological aging advantage of nine years over those who are sedentary, and a seven-year advantage compared to those who are moderately active. To be highly active, women had to engage in 30 minutes of jogging per day (40 minutes for men), five days a week.

Tucker analyzed data from 5,823 adults who participated in the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, one of the few indexes that includes telomere length values for study subjects....His study found the shortest telomeres came from sedentary people -- they had 140 base pairs of DNA less at the end of their telomeres than highly active folks. Surprisingly, he also found there was no significant difference in telomere length between those with low or moderate physical activity and the sedentary people.

Image result for tea A study found that daily drinking of  tea (either black tea/oolong or green tea) is associated with a lower risk of "neurocognitive disorders" - in cognitive impairment in women, and in a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease in both men and women who are genetically predisposed to the disease (apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotype) - when compared to those who never or rarely drank tea. The researchers called long-term daily tea drinking as "neuroprotective".

The study followed 957 residents of Singapore for several years. All were "cognitively normal" when the study started (average age 64 1/2 years), but 72 people or 7.5% had developed neurocognitive disorders by the second follow-up (after 4 years). The study found that there was a dose-dependent relationship - the more tea that was drunk daily, the more protective it appeared to be. And it was most protective in those who consistently drank tea at both time points - when the study started and till the end. However, there was a gender difference - it seemed to protect women from neurocognitive disorders, but not men. But in those who were genetically predisposed to Alzheimer's - tea drinking was protective for both males and females. Further studies will follow up to see if the gender difference holds - they couldn't explain it.

The researchers also point out that tea drinking has a long history in Chinese culture as an natural "attention enhancer" and strong tea is drunk as to maintain alertness and concentration. Sounds a lot like why people drink coffee. From Medical Xpress:

Daily consumption of tea protects the elderly from cognitive decline

Tea drinking reduces the risk of cognitive impairment in older persons by 50 per cent and as much as 86 per cent for those who are genetically at risk of Alzheimer's. A cup of tea a day can keep dementia away, and this is especially so for those who are genetically predisposed to the debilitating disease, according to a recent study led by Assistant Professor Feng Lei from the Department of Psychological Medicine at National University of Singapore's (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. The longitudinal study involving 957 Chinese seniors aged 55 years or older has found that regular consumption of tea lowers the risk of cognitive decline in the elderly by 50 per cent, while APOE e4 gene carriers who are genetically at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease may experience a reduction in cognitive impairment risk by as much as 86 per cent.

He added, "Based on current knowledge, this long term benefit of tea consumption is due to the bioactive compounds in tea leaves, such as catechins, theaflavins, thearubigins and L-theanine. These compounds exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential and other bioactive properties that may protect the brain from vascular damage and neurodegeneration. Our understanding of the detailed biological mechanisms is still very limited so we do need more research to find out definitive answers.

Related image A new study was published that supports eating lots of blueberries (or drinking blueberry juice) for health - this time better brain functioning in people aged 65 to 77 who drank concentrated blueberry juice daily for 12 weeks. The people randomly assigned to the group drinking blueberry juice daily showed improvements in cognitive function, blood flow to the brain, and activation of the brain while carrying out cognitive tests. The people received MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), as well as various blood tests and cognitive tests.

And how much did they drink of the juice daily? Thirty ml or 1 ounce of blueberry concentrate (which provided 387 mg anthocyanins) which was diluted with tap water. Anthocyanins are anti-oxidants that belong to a class of compounds called flavonoids, and are found in high concentrations in blueberries, cherries, and plums. The blueberry concentrate amount was equivalent to about 230 grams of blueberries - about 1 1/3 cups blueberries.

What was good about the study was that people were randomly assigned to the blueberry juice group or a placebo group (they drank a synthetic fruit cordial) - which eliminated self-selection bias, and it was "double-blind" so that no one knew who was in which group (again eliminating bias). Interestingly, people who were already eating more than 5 portions of fruits daily were excluded from the study - because so many other studies have already found all sorts of brain benefits from a diet with lots of fruits and berries. But the main conclusion from this and other related research is: eating lots of berries is good for you and has health benefits. From Medical Xpress:

Blueberry concentrate improves brain function in older people

Drinking concentrated blueberry juice improves brain function in older people, according to research by the University of Exeter. In the study, healthy people aged 65-77 who drank concentrated blueberry juice every day showed improvements in cognitive function, blood flow to the brain and activation of the brain while carrying out cognitive tests. There was also evidence suggesting improvement in working memory. Blueberries are rich in flavonoids, which possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Of the 26 healthy adults in the study, 12 were given concentrated blueberry juice - providing the equivalent of 230 g of blueberries - once a day, while 14 received a placebo. Before and after the 12-week period, participants took a range of cognitive tests while an MRI scanner monitored their brain function and resting brain blood flow was measured. Compared to the placebo group, those who took the blueberry supplement showed significant increases in brain activity in brain areas related to the tests. The study excluded anyone who said they consumed more than five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, and all participants were told to stick to their normal diet throughout. [Original study.]

 This past week a study was published linking 8 to 10 portions of fruits and vegetables per day with a lower risk of early death, cancer, heart disease, and stroke. This confirms other research linking many daily servings of fruits and vegetables with various health benefits. For example, the study findings discussed in the Nov. 2, 2016 post: "Eating lots of fruits and vegetables (more than 10 servings a day!)  is linked to better cognitive functioning in both normal weight and overweight adults (both young and older adults), and may delay the onset of cognitive decline that occurs with aging and also dementia."

This new study led by researchers from the Imperial College London reviewed 95 previous studies of the relationship between diet and health. They found that people who ate 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day had nearly a third lower risk of premature death and stroke than those who ate very little or no fruits and vegetables. The researchers pointed out that as the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten daily went up, the health benefits also increased (lower risk of heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer), and the risk of premature death decreased - thus a dose related relationship. So better to eat some fruits and vegetables than none! A portion is about 80 grams, equivalent to a medium apple, 1 banana, or generally about 1/2 cup of vegetables or fruits.

From Science Daily: Eating up to ten portions of fruit and vegetables a day may prevent 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide

A fruit and vegetable intake above five-a-day shows major benefit in reducing the chance of heart attack, stroke, cancer and early death. This is the finding of new research, led by scientists from Imperial College London, which analysed 95 studies on fruit and vegetable intake....the greatest benefit came from eating 800 g a day (roughly equivalent to ten portions -- one portion of fruit or vegetables if defined as 80 g).

The results revealed that even a daily intake of 200 g was associated with a 16 per cent reduced risk of heart disease, an 18 per cent reduced risk of stroke, and a 13 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. This amount, which is equivalent to two and a half portions, was also associated with 4 per cent reduced risk in cancer risk, and 15 per cent reduction in the risk of premature death. Further benefits were observed with higher intakes. Eating up to 800 g fruit and vegetables a day -- or 10 portions -- was associated with a 24 per cent reduced risk of heart disease, a 33 per cent reduced risk of stroke, a 28 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a 13 per cent reduced risk of total cancer, and a 31 per cent reduction in dying prematurely. This risk was calculated in comparison to not eating any fruit and vegetables. [Original study.]

  Do you want to live longer and be healthy at the same time? Some possible ways may be to restrict the calories in the diet (every day) or to practice intermittent calorie restriction (a fasting mimicking diet a few days a month or even each week, such as the 5:2 diet). Previous studies in animals and humans have suggested that periodic fasting can reduce body fat, cut insulin levels, and provide other benefits. Studies in animals found that sharply restricting calories (calorie restriction or CR) daily resulted in longer, healthier lives, but it is unknown if the benefits of chronic calorie restriction also holds true for humans, and even if it might be dangerous. And really - how many people would actually want to reduce their calorie intake by 25% or more day in and day out for years? Intermittent calorie restriction seems much, much easier.

Two recently published studies suggest health benefits of calorie restriction diets - chronic calorie restriction in adult rhesus monkeys, and intermittent calorie restriction (a fasting mimicking diet a few days a month) in humans.

Researchers at the Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison and National Institute of Aging reanalyzed two studies they had originally done with conflicting results, and now they reported in Nature Communications that chronic calorie restriction produced health benefits (such as lower incidence of cancer, cardiovascular problems) and longer life in rhesus monkeys. Since these primates have human-like aging patterns, they thought that CR would also have similar benefits in humans - a longer, healthier life.  The researchers describe one monkey they started on a 30 percent calorie restriction diet when he was 16 years old (late middle age for rhesus monkeys), and that he is now 43 (a longevity record for the species). They found that in nonhuman primates calorie restriction is beneficial when started in adulthood (especially late middle age in males), but does not improve survival when started in juveniles (young animals) - and in fact they tended to die at an earlier age than the normal diet group of primates.

In the other study (in Science Translational Medicine), research suggests it is possible to gain anti-aging benefits with a “fasting-mimicking diet,” practiced just five days a month. 100 healthy adults (aged 20 to 70) were randomly assigned to either a group following a low-calorie "fasting-mimicking" diet (FMD) five days a month, for 3 months, or a normal diet control group. After 3 months, the control group also went on the fasting mimicking diet. Test subjects followed a 50 percent calorie restricted diet (totaling about 1,100 calories on the first day) and 70 percent diet (about 700 calories) on the next four days, then ate whatever they wanted for the rest of the month. The calorie-restricted diet was low in calories, sugars, and protein, was 100 percent plant-based, and featured vegetable soups, energy bars, energy drinks, and a chip snack, as well as mineral and vitamin supplements. (Note that Longo and Univ. of Southern California are both owners of L-Nutra, the company that manufactures the diet. But Longo says he takes no salary or consulting fees from the company.)

But it still wasn't easy for the test subjects to follow the 5 days of restricted calories per month because there was a 25% drop out rateHealth benefits (about a 6 pound weight loss, smaller waistlines, lower blood pressure, lower levels of inflammation, and better levels of glucose, triglycerides and cholesterol, etc.), showed up after the third month and persisted for at least three months—even after subjects had returned full-time to a normal diet. They lost body fat, but lean muscle mass remained unchanged. They found that the benefits were greater for people who were obese or otherwise unhealthy. In summary, the researchers said that 3 cycles of the 5 days per month of fasting-mimicking diet improved the levels of a variety of "markers/risk factors associated with poor health and aging and with multiple age-related diseases" (such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc).

Other researchers say there is no need to suffer through such extreme diets, but to instead follow a healthy lifestyle, which includes a healthy diet (with lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds, whole grains, and nuts), and to exercise. And remember - nowhere does following restricted calorie diets mean you'll live longer - just that you should be healthier as you age (hopefully). There are no guarantees in life...

From Science Translational Medicine: Fasting-mimicking diet and markers/risk factors for aging, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease

Mice that fast periodically are healthier, metabolically speaking. To explore whether fasting can help people as well, Wei et al. studied 71 people who either consumed a fasting-mimicking diet for 5 days each month for 3 months or maintained their normal diet for 3 months and then switched to the fasting schedule. The fasting-like diet reduced body weight and body fat, lowered blood pressure, and decreased the hormone IGF-1, which has been implicated in aging and disease. A post hoc analysis replicated these results and also showed that fasting decreased BMI, glucose, triglycerides, cholesterol, and C-reactive protein (a marker for inflammation). These effects were generally larger in the subjects who were at greater risk of disease at the start of the study. A larger study is needed to replicate these results, but they raise the possibility that fasting may be a practical road to a healthy metabolic system.

From Nature Communications:  Caloric restriction improves health and survival of rhesus monkeys