Having the right foods on your plate is designed to slow down ageing in the body. Is there really such a thing as an antiaging diet?
Growing old and as healthy as possible: This is the wish many people have. Medical journalist Andreas Jopp is no exception. He just deals more intensely than most with how food affects the aging of the body.
“Very few people are aware of how important nutrition is for the repair mechanisms in the body,” says Jopp, who has written a book on the subject (“ON / OFF health: creating the body anew through nutrition”).
From his point of view, it is clear: if you tackle your diet properly – and put certain foods on the menu – you can eat yourself younger. How is that supposed to work?
How do people age? Bring the cells into focus
If you want to understand how the body ages, you have to zoom in strongly and focus on the cells. The chromosomes on which the genetic material is stored are located in the cell nucleus. The telomeres sit at their ends. Science has long looked at these chromosome segments when it comes to ageing.
Andreas Jopp explains why: “The telomeres protect the genetic software of the cells. You can imagine that like the plastic caps at the end of a shoelace that ensure that it does not fray.”
The problem: With every cell division, the telomeres become a little shorter – the chromosomes become more and more unstable with increasing age. “This increases the risk that they will be read incorrectly,” says Jopp. Regardless of whether it is in the intestines or in the skin: The cells then no longer perform their tasks as well. In addition, it is more difficult for the body to regenerate.
Every person’s lifestyle is individual
Professor Kristina Norman confirms that telomeres play a role when it comes to ageing. She is the head of the Department of Nutrition and Gerontology at the German Institute for Nutritional Research Potsdam-Rehbrücke.
But, says Norman, that is not the only mechanism. “There are a total of seven mechanisms of ageing, including DNA damage and the exhaustion of stem cells.” When it comes to ageing, there is no fixed template. “This is because genetics, lifestyle and psyche are individual in each person,” explains the researcher.
Even if the telomeres are not solely responsible for the ageing processes in the body, there is evidence that you can take care of your telomeres with a well-chosen diet.
Less sugar, fewer processed products
Book author Jopp advises consuming less sugar and highly processed products. If these are metabolized, free radicals are created. These reactive molecules are problematic for two reasons. “First, they can hit the cells and damage parts of the genes there,” says Jopp. “Second, free radicals are believed to stimulate inflammation in the body, and that too can damage the telomeres.”
If you don’t want to do without the sweet Danish pastry completely, you can remedy the situation with a few raspberries. Berries, like fruits and vegetables in general, contain antioxidants. These neutralize free radicals. Coffee and green tea – drinks that are part of everyday life for many – also contain antioxidants.
The strengths of the Mediterranean cuisine
In the hope of slowing aging through nutrition, the focus is often also on the cuisine of the Mediterranean region. Rightly so, as Jopp finds: “This does not mean the Mediterranean sham pack of pizza and tiramisu, but a diet with lots of vegetables and fruit, lots of pulses and little meat or fish.”
Nutrition researcher Norman also confirms that the fact that the Mediterranean diet has a positive effect on ageing processes is evident, i.e. well documented. It looks a little different when it comes to studies on the relationship between diet and telomere length. “It is theoretically obvious that telomeres can be influenced by diet. However, there is a no larger study that shows the mechanism behind it,” says Norman.
Healthy nutrition as an important component
One thing is certain: a healthy diet is worth it. It is an important building block for healthy ageing – but not the only one. Andreas Jopp and Kristina Norman both point out that in addition to diet, the entire lifestyle also counts.
Norman says: “A plant-based diet with little meat and fish, enough exercise, little alcohol – I can recommend that to everyone.” All of this together helps to be as healthy as possible even in old age. “And that’s what we want after all.”