Why do we age? As an evolutionary strategy, living beings needed to grow as fast as possible—thanks to the engine-of-growth enzyme TOR (Target of Rapamycin)—to start reproduction before they die from external causes. In midlife, however, TOR can be thought of the engine-of-aging, causing sustained cellular growth and proliferation. Consuming milk and other animal products has been found to upregulate the activity of TOR, and may increase the risk of a variety of cancers. Reducing animal protein consumption on the other hand, lowers TOR activity to a similar extent to caloric restriction (see also here and here) and exercise.

Cooked in particular ways, poultry, pork, seafood, and beef can be the most concentrated dietary sources of AGEs, Advanced Glycation End products, also known as glycotoxins—, which may also accelerate the aging process. These may be reasons why meat consumption is associated with living a significantly shorter life with increased cancer mortality, increased heart disease mortality, and increased overall mortality.

Achieving four things—not smoking, not being obese, half hour of exercise a day, and improving our diets (eating more fruits, veggies, whole grains, and less meat), may in effect turn back the clock 14 years, although diet may be the most important factor in terms of DNA health. In fact, the more servings of fruits, vegetables, and beans we consume, the longer we may live. Restricting methionine intake (largely by restricting animal products) is another strategy for extending our lives; however, we don’t want just longer lives, but healthier ones. Managing our stress through activities such as meditation could in effect reverse the aging of our DNA. The Adventists in California, a 100% meat-free population, may have the highest life expectancy on any formally described population.

Antioxidant pills have no apparent effect on aging, though antioxidant-rich foods may. Some foods that appear to protect against aging include: berries (for the brain, skin, and eyes), grains (for protection against Alzheimer’s disease) turmeric, corn and spinach (for macular degeneration), nutritional yeast, watercress, cocoa, green and yellow vegetables (to prevent wrinkles), but why just choose specific foods? A plant-based diet helps preserve muscle mass, boosts immunity, repairs DNA faster, and slows the process of aging. 

See also Alzheimer’s disease, longevity, and lifespan.

Topic summary contributed by Tommasina.

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