Can a Plant-Based Diet Reverse Aging? The Latest Science Says Yes!
Whether you’re in your thirties or seventies, anti-aging is top of mind for everyone past their collagen-producing years, around age 25. From trying every new cream to paying top dollar for personal trainers, one thing is for sure, people are on a quest to slow down Father Time.
Although there’s technically no such thing as “anti-aging” per se, you can slow the process of aging and build stronger collagen, muscle tone and appear younger by choosing the foods you eat, the exercise you do and the sleep you get. Know that there are ways to slow down the cellular process that is aging, and much of it has to do with what you put in your body, not on your body, according to a 2018 study on cellular function and healthy diet published in The American Journal of Epidemiology.
Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in added sugar, sodium, and processed meats has been shown to promote healthy cellular aging. "The key takeaway is that following a healthy diet can help us maintain healthy cells and avoid certain chronic diseases," according to the study's lead author Cindy Leung, then assistant professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. "Emphasis should be placed on improving the overall quality of your diet rather than emphasizing individual foods or nutrients."
And according to a previous study published in The Lancet Oncology, hanging on to your youthfulness may be a simple as picking up plant-based foods and putting down the meat, and dairy. Both studies looked at the health and length of the "caps" on our cell's chromosomes called Telomeres. Telomeres promote stability and protect your cells' DNA. Age is the strongest predictor of telomere length since telomeres shorten each time a cell has to regenerate itself.
The Science Behind “Staying Young” and Fighting Inflammation
To sum up the scientific breakdown of the Lancet study; Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California and a long-time advocate of plant-based diets for overall wellbeing, found that consuming a plant-based diet slowed down the shortening or deterioration of our cells by increasing the enzyme activity and protecting the length of vital Telomerase. By staying robust, Telomerase helps slow down aging. Telomeres are protective caps at the end of our human chromosomes; an enzyme that rebuilds the structure of our cell’s DNA, so be keeping these intact for longer, you are essentially preventing cellular breakdown and cutting down the aging process.
As we age, telomeres shorten due to many factors, diet being one of them. This study indicates that the answer to aging slowly is that we need to support the structure of our cells at their core, by adopting a whole food plant-based diet. Funded by the US Department of Defense, this study showed that in just three months of eating a whole food plant-based diet, Telomerase health can be significantly benefited.
More good news: New research supports that if we can slow the loss of our Telomeres, through adopting a plant-based diet, we can also live longer and healthier lives, even preventing certain diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and even dementia. Not only does plant-based eating support a healthier heart but it also works against everyday infections by decreasing inflammation across every part of the body. Win-win!
Best Foods for Telomeres Protection, and Overall Health
So now that we know just how important these DNA enzymes are in the fight against aging and disease prevention, let’s take a look at how we can best support telomeres with diet. One study of 400 women found that those placed on a plant-based diet for three months had 29% longer telomeres than the control group during the same period.
Of course, all plant-based foods host amazing nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, but there are certain foods that give a special shield of protection to the telomeres. Let’s take a look!
Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Selenium: These antioxidants combat the free radicals that may cause cell damage or cell death in-turn aiding in the protection of the longevity of our cells.
Vitamin C Rich Foods: Oranges, guavas, strawberries, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, papaya, leafy-green vegetables, tomatoes,
Folate/Folic Acid: Folate helps the body produce new, healthy cells and protects the telomeres against shortening.
Folate/Folic Acid Foods: Leafy-green Veggies, (spinach, broccoli, swiss chard, asparagus, Brussel sprouts), lentils, beans, and rice.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: A major inflammation fighter, omega 3’s reduces the amount of bodily inflammation keeping attacks on telomeres at bay.
Omega 3 Foods: Nuts, leafy green vegetables, vegetable oils, and flaxseed.
Foods that Damage Cells, Accelerate Aging and Promote Inflammation
Food for thought when choosing your next meal: According to a 2008 study of 840 people, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the effect multiple food groups had on telomere length. Researchers found that people who consumed one or more servings of processed meats each week had shorter telomeres than those who didn’t eat processed meats.
The same goes for red and even white meat; another study conducted in 2008 for Clinical Nutrition, rats were fed both red and white meat for four weeks. The study's findings to telomeres but even more so for the red meat.
Case in point - telomeres are comparable to the caps on our shoelaces for our DNA or genes; they protect them from shortening and fraying. If we take care of them properly by feeding the body what it needs to work efficiently, they will work for us not against us, prolonging our life, fighting diseases, and keeping us younger for many more years.