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Could intermittent fasting help boost longevity?

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Scientists in America are joining forces to answer the question of whether intermittent fasting can help slow the ageing process in humans.

Research has shown that the eating pattern that switches between periods of fasting and dining each day or week can help people lose weight and may be easier to follow than a traditional calorie-counting diet.

But whilst studies in animals suggest intermittent fasting slows ageing and helps them live longer, there is nothing to say it would have the same effect on humans.

Now researchers at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Centre in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, are collaborating on the DiAL-Health study to determine if intermittent fasting or calorie restriction can slow ageing and improve health in physically well people who are either lean or somewhat overweight.

It is hoped the study will help determine if either dietary approach can improve ageing biomarkers and boost healthspan – the length of a person’s life free of diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure.

Both diabetes and high blood pressure – also called hypertension –  are serious conditions affecting many older adults, and the two disorders usually go hand-in-hand.

This new study is being led by Dr Corby Martin, professor and director of the Ingestive Behaviour, Weight Management and Health Promotion Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical; Dr Leanne Redman, professor and director of Pennington Biomedical’s Reproductive Endocrinology and Women’s Health Laboratory; and Dr Courtney Peterson from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Dr Martin said: “We have known for almost a hundred years that eating less extends an animal’s healthspan and lifespan. Although eating less also slows ageing in humans, it can be difficult to follow.

“Recently, however, studies have shown that intermittent fasting affects ageing in a similar way in animals. Since intermittent fasting may be easier to follow than calorie counting, we are excited to see if intermittent fasting may be an easier way to become healthy and slow the ageing process.”

Dr Redman commented that this new study is particularly innovative as “it will use newly developed smartphone apps to help people stick with the programme with minimal support from health coaches.”

In addition to affecting well-being and possibly longevity, both diets also promote weight loss, which can help address the global obesity epidemic, currently one of the most conspicuous – yet most neglected – public health issues which can lead to an array of serious illnesses.

Dr John Kirwan, executive director of Pennington Biomedical Research Centre, said: “Obesity is one of the most prevalent and deadly diseases nationally (referring to the US). This study is an important contribution to our understanding of how intermittent fasting can help individuals to lose or maintain weight.”

There is much anecdotal evidence that following certain diets can help increase longevity, whether it be intermittent fasting, caloric restriction, or the ketogenic diet consisting of high fats, moderate proteins and low carbohydrates, which forces the body to burn calories.

One of the best known is the Okinawans who live on a group of islands, once known as the land of immortals, at the southern end of Japan. Okinawans eat around 20% less calories than those living on the mainland and get about 85% of their energy from carbohydrates.

Statistics show they have a 40% greater chance of living to 100 than other Japanese people, and have remarkably low rates of age-associated illnesses like diabetes, dementia, cancer, and heart disease.

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Tai chi outperforms conventional exercise for seniors

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New findings from 12 studies involving 2,901 participants have demonstrated that tai chi outperforms conventional exercise in improving mobility and balance in seniors.

While tai chi is understood to be beneficial for functional mobility and balance in older adults, such benefits are not well understood due to large variance in research study protocols and observations.

This new review and analysis has now shown that tai chi can induce greater improvement in functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults compared to conventional exercise.

The findings showed the following performance results:

  • The time to complete 50-foot walking was 1.84 seconds faster. 
  • The time to maintain a one-leg stance was 6 seconds longer when eyes were open and 1.65 seconds longer when eyes were closed. 
  • Individuals improved their timed-up-and-go test performance by 0.18 points, indicating quicker standing, walking, and sitting.
  • Individuals taking the functional reach test showed significant improvement with a standardised mean difference of 0.7, suggesting a noteworthy positive impact on the ability to reach and perform daily activities.

Secondary analyses revealed that the use of tai chi with relatively short duration of less than 20 weeks, low total time of less than 24 total hours, and/or focusing on the Yang-style of this ancient form of Chinese martial arts were particularly beneficial for functional mobility and balance as compared to conventional exercise.

“This systematic literature review and meta-analysis are exciting because they provide strong evidence that tai chi is a more efficient strategy to improve functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults, as compared to conventional exercise,” said Brad Manor, Ph.D., director of the Mobility and Falls Program at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, and associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“This research suggests that tai chi should be carefully considered in future studies and routines of rehabilitative programs for balance and mobility in older adults,” said Bao Dapeng, professor at Beijing Sport University.

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New standards for biomarkers of ageing

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A paper has put forward a new framework for standardising the development and validation of biomarkers of ageing to better predict longevity and quality of life.

Led by Harvard researchers, the team has zeroed in on biomarkers of ageing using omic data from population-based studies. 

The team included ageing and longevity expert Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, founder and CEO of AI-driven drug discovery company Insilico Medicine, and the findings appeared in Nature Medicine

Ageing is associated with a number of biological changes including increased molecular and cellular damage, however, researchers do not yet have a standardised means to evaluate and validate biomarkers related to ageing. 

In order to create those standards as well as actionable clinical tools, the team analysed population-based cohort studies built on omic data (data related to biological molecules which can include proteomics, transcriptomics, genomics, and epigenomics) of blood-based biomarkers of ageing. The researchers then compared the predictive strength of different biomarkers, including study design and data collection approaches, and looked at how these biomarkers presented in different populations. 

In order to better assess the impact of ageing using biomarkers, the researchers found that clinicians needed to expand their focus to consider not only mortality as an outcome, but also how biomarkers of aging are associated with numerous other health outcomes, including functional decline, frailty, chronic disease, and disability. They also call for the standardisation of omic data to improve reliability. 

“Omics and biomarkers harmonisation efforts, such as the Biolearn project, are instrumental in validation of biomarkers of aging” said co-first author Mahdi Moqri, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

Biolearn is an open-source project for biomarkers of aging and is helping to harmonise existing ageing biomarkers, unify public datasets, and provide computational methodologies.

The team also emphasised the importance of continued collaborations among research groups on “large-scale, longitudinal studies that can track long-term physiological changes and responses to therapeutics in diverse populations”, and that further work is required to understand how implementation of biomarker evaluation in clinical trials might improve patient quality of life and survival.

“If we hope to have clinical trials for interventions that extend healthy lifespan in humans, we need reliable, validated biomarkers of ageing,” said co-first author Jesse Poganik, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

“We hope that our framework will help prioritise the most promising biomarkers and provide health care providers with clinically valuable and actionable tools.”

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Healthy aging research to receive $115 million

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Global non-profit Hevolution Foundation has announced $115 million in funding that makes up 49 new awards under its Geroscience Research Opportunities (HF-GRO) programme.  

As part of Hevolution’s mission to catalyse the healthspan scientific ecosystem and drive transformative breakthroughs in healthy aging, HF-GRO is funding promising pre-clinical research in aging biology and geroscience. 

Through this first wave of HF-GRO awards, Hevolution will invest up to $115 million in this first cohort of 49 selected projects over the next five years. Its second call for proposals under HF-GRO will be announced later this year, offering an additional $115 million to address the significant funding gaps in aging research.  

Dr. Felipe Sierra, Hevolution’s Chief Scientific Officer stated: “These 49 important research projects represent a significant step forward in deepening our understanding of healthy aging. Hevolution’s prime objective is to mobilise greater investment around uncovering the foundational mechanisms behind biological aging. 

“We are steadfast in our belief that by examining the root causes of aging, rather than solely focusing on its associated diseases, we can usher in a brighter future for humanity.” 

HF-GRO awardees include researchers at prestigious institutions across the United States, Canada, and Europe, including the U.S. National Institute on Aging, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Buck Institute, the Mayo Clinic, New York University, and the University of California San Francisco, among many others. 

The American Federation for Aging Research is providing programmatic support for the HF-GRO program, with grantees selected through a rigorous two-stage peer-review process involving 100 experts in aging biology and geroscience. 

Dr Berenice Benayoun, an HF-GRO grant recipient at the University of Southern California, stated: “I am extremely honored and excited that Hevolution selected our project for funding. This is a project close to my heart, which aims at understanding why and how the female and male innate immune aging differs. 

“This funding will support us as we start laying the foundation for a lasting improvement of women’s health throughout aging.” 

To date, Hevolution has committed approximately $250 million to transform the healthy aging sector, including the $40 million for specialised research and development in healthspan science recently announced at Hevolution’s Global Healthspan Summit. 

Hevolution is ramping up its investments to enable healthier aging for all and is now the second largest funder of aging biology research worldwide.  

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