Most people, if offered a choice between taking a pill or changing their diet, to improve metabolic health … they would probably choose the drug.
And as researchers from the University of Sydney advise: “There has been a huge effort to discover drugs that aim to improve metabolic health and aging without requiring a change in diet.”
One reason behind this huge effort is that extensive public messages about the lifestyle changes needed to avoid chronic illness have largely fallen flat.
As Det Nye Dagblad has repeatedly reported that Australia, despite being a rich country, has a poor diet – see here and here.
Thank God for drugs, right?
Not so much.
New research from Sydney’s Charles Perkins Center suggests that “the composition of our diet may be more powerful than medication to keep conditions such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease at bay”.
In other words, a healthy diet trumps drugs.
The complex study, performed in mice, compared the effect of 40 different treatments on the internal function of our cells.
In the treatments, the nutrition was varied – including the amount of calories and the rations of macronutrients – as well as the doses of three anti-aging agents.
“We discovered diet composition had a far more powerful effect than drugs, which largely dampened dietary responses rather than reshaped them,” said Professor Stephen Simpson, senior author and academic director of the Charles Perkins Center.
“Given that humans share essentially the same nutrient signaling pathways as mice, research suggests that people would benefit from changing their diet to improve metabolic health instead of taking the drugs we studied.”
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The drugs studied were metformin (standard treatment for type 2 diabetes), rapamycin (a compound used to coat coronary stents and prevent rejection of organ transplants that have emerged as an anti-aging drug) and resveratrol (which also appears as anti-aging drug). ).
Macronutrients are the basic food group of proteins, fats and carbohydrates – and varying ratios of these in the diet have become a popular way to control weight.
The strength of the study came from using a ‘nutrition geometry’ framework developed by Professor Simpson and his colleague Professor David Raubenheimer.
The framework allows researchers to “plot foods, meals, diets and dietary patterns together based on their nutrient composition, and it helps researchers to observe otherwise overlooked patterns in the relationship between particular diets, health and disease”.
This provides a very sophisticated study “instead of focusing on a single nutrient, which is a limitation in other nutrition studies”.
The study was based on previous work by these researchers, who demonstrated – in mice and humans – the protective role of diet and specific combinations of proteins, fats and carbohydrates against aging, obesity, heart disease, immune dysfunction and risk of metabolic diseases, such as. type 2 diabetes ”.
The difference between medicine and nutrients
Protein and total caloric intake were shown to have a particularly strong effect on metabolic pathways – these are the series of associated chemical reactions that convert raw nutrients into more useful substances.
But they also turned out to affect the “fundamental processes that govern the way our cells function”.
For example, the amount of protein eaten affected the activity of the mitochondria, which are the power center component of cells that produce energy.
This creates a downstream effect, “as the amount of protein and dietary energy eaten affects how accurately cells translate their genes into the various proteins needed to help cells function properly and to make new cells”.
These two basic processes are associated with aging.
In comparison, the drugs mainly acted to attenuate the cell’s metabolic response to the diet rather than to fundamentally reshape them.