As we continue to live longer, the question of healthy ageing has never been so important. Researchers around the world are rapidly looking for ways to support our health as we age and this week’s Nutrition News looks at three recently published papers that suggest nutrition plays a vital role.

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Ashwagandha shows promise for healthy ageing

Ageing is a continuous process characterised by a decline in physiological activity over time and marked by various hallmarks contributing to age-related conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases, cardiac problems, diabetes, bone degeneration, and cancer. Cellular senescence, a process that involves the cessation of cell division, plays a crucial role in driving ageing. Increasing evidence supports the connection between diet and how well we age.

Considering that almost all biological processes are modulated by RNAs (ribonucleic acid), numerous RNA-binding proteins have been linked to ageing and related complexities. Studies have recently highlighted the ability of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) to influence RNA expression, stability, and processing, providing insights into its mechanisms of action. By targeting RNA-related pathways, ashwagandha may exhibit promising effects in supporting age-associated molecular changes, including modifications in gene expression and signalling networks.

Research, reported in the article “Ashwagandha has ‘tremendous potential’ for promoting healthy aging: Review” indicates that ashwagandha can modulate RNA-level changes associated with ageing, as demonstrated in both in vitro and in vivo studies. Managing aging is challenging due to its progressive and irreversible nature and the comorbidities associated with it. However, advancements in nutritional study, such as this research into ashwagandha, offer promising potential interventions and support.

With new high-tech tools and updates to the human genome, we can now study ageing at a genetic level more effectively. The field of RNA biology has made great strides with the development of new technologies including antisense oligonucleotides, aptamers, RNA vaccines, siRNAs, and CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing. New methods for delivering RNA, such as nanocarriers, lipid nanoparticles, and exosomes, are also being developed. Future research will likely look at how ashwagandha affects gene expression using these advanced tools and how it can be utilised to further support health and wellbeing.

In summary, ashwagandha has shown promising effects in reducing age-related molecular changes in numerous studies but further research is needed to establish its effects.

The nutrients that support a healthy mind as we age

Scientists have long studied cognitive health to promote healthier ageing. While risk factors for accelerated brain ageing are well-documented, preventive measures for cognitive decline are less understood. Recent research, reported in the article “Food for thought: Study links key nutrients with slower brain aging” by Science Daily, indicates that nutrition plays a crucial role in brain health.

Led by Aron Barbey, director of the Centre for Brain, Biology, and Behaviour, with contributions from doctoral student Jisheng Wu and research scientist Christopher Zwilling, the study combines advancements in neuroscience and nutritional science. The researchers identified a nutrient profile in participants with superior cognitive performance.

The study enrolled 100 cognitively healthy participants aged 65-75. These participants provided demographic information, body measurements, and physical activity data. Blood plasma was collected after fasting to analyse nutrient biomarkers. Participants also underwent cognitive assessments and MRI scans. The study identified two types of brain ageing: accelerated and slower-than-expected. Those with slower brain ageing had a distinct nutrient profile.

The beneficial nutrient biomarkers included fatty acids (vaccenic, gondoic, alpha-linolenic, eicosapentaenoic, eicosadienoic, and lignoceric acids); antioxidants and carotenoids (cis-lutein, trans-lutein, and zeaxanthin); two forms of vitamin E, and choline. This profile aligns with the Mediterranean diet, which previous research has associated with healthy brain ageing.

Barbey highlighted that previous research often relied on participants' recall through food frequency questionnaires. This study, one of the largest of its kind, integrates brain imaging, blood biomarkers, and validated cognitive assessments, offering a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between nutrition, cognitive function, and brain health.

The researchers plan to further explore the nutrient profile's impact on healthy brain ageing. Barbey envisions future therapies and interventions promoting brain health based on these findings. He emphasised the importance of randomised controlled trials to isolate specific nutrients and assess their effects on cognitive performance and brain health.

Study suggests omega 3 is the key to a healthy ageing brain

A recent study, noted in the article “Mice study supports omega-3 role in longevity” has shed light on the potential role of omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 FA) in slowing down the ageing process by influencing leukocyte telomere length (LTL). Telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes, are biomarkers of ageing; their length diminishes with age, contributing to cellular ageing and related diseases. While previous research on the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on telomere length has been inconclusive, this study aimed to test the hypothesis that n-3 FA positively affect LTL.

The study utilised Fat-1 transgenic mice, which have the unique ability to convert omega-6 fatty acids (n-6 FA) to n-3 FA, resulting in elevated levels of n-3 FA in their tissues. Blood samples from 10-month-old and 3-month-old wild-type (WT) mice and Fat-1 mice were analysed to measure both relative and absolute LTL. Additionally, the researchers examined the levels of proteins crucial for telomere maintenance using Western blot analysis.

The findings revealed that Fat-1 transgenic mice exhibited longer leukocyte telomeres than their WT counterparts, indicating a slower rate of age-related telomere shortening. Specifically, in 10-month-old mice, the LTL was significantly longer in Fat-1 mice compared to WT mice (relative LTL: WT = 1.00 ± 0.09 vs. Fat-1: 1.25 ± 0.05, P = 0.031; absolute LTL: WT = 64.41 ± 6.50 vs. Fat-1: 78.53 ± 3.86, P = 0.048). Although the difference in LTL among three-month-old mice was not statistically significant, the Fat-1 mice still had longer telomeres on average. Furthermore, Fat-1 mice showed higher levels of two shelterin proteins, TRF1 and TRF2, essential for telomere protection.

This study is the first to use an animal model free from dietary confounders to demonstrate that elevated levels of n-3 FA in tissues can reduce telomere attrition. The results suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may play a crucial role in slowing down telomere shortening, thereby potentially counteracting premature ageing and reducing the risk of age-related diseases. The findings open new avenues for using omega-3 fatty acids as a dietary intervention to support healthier ageing.

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Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is the Founder of Metabolics who writes about Metabolics updates, events and natural healthcare. Her experience and passion for natural supplements and healthcare comes from her years of experience as a practising osteopath, having founded Metabolics in her search for high quality, natural products in her own work. Alison has been a qualified and practising Osteopath since 1981 and regularly gives seminars on a range of healthcare subjects to the wider practitioner community helping share her knowledge and experience.