Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids appears to protect seniors against the onset of a serious eye disease known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Researchers did a fresh analysis of a one-year dietary survey conducted in the early 1990s. The poll involved nearly 2,400 seniors between the ages of 65 and 84 living in Maryland’s Eastern Shore region, where fish and shellfish are eaten routinely.
While participants in all groups, including controls, averaged at least one serving of fish or shellfish per week, those who had advanced AMD had consumed less fish and seafood containing omega-3 fatty acids. After their food intake was assessed, participants underwent eye examinations. About 450 had AMD, including 68 who had an advanced stage of the disease, which can lead to severe vision impairment or blindness. Prior evidence suggested that dietary zinc is similarly protective against AMD, so the researchers looked to see if zinc consumption from a diet of oysters and crabs reduced risk of AMD, but no such association was seen.
The researchers believe that the low dietary zinc levels relative to zinc supplements could account for the absence of such a link. However, they cautioned against people to start taking omega-3 supplements to protect against AMD based on this study because they are not sure that the above results have sufficient power to draw any conclusions. The correlation is important but larger studies with longer term follow-up are needed before being able to properly assess the impact.
A new study shows following a Mediterranean style diet rich in vegetables, olive oil, and fish may keep the mind sharp and slow age-related cognitive decline.The diet typified by the Italians, Greeks, and other Mediterranean cultures has already been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. But this and other studies are now suggesting that the diet may also have healthy benefits for the mind.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, non-refined cereals, olive oil, and moderate wine consumption, usually at meals. Researchers found older adults who followed the diet more closely had slower rates of age-related cognitive decline than those who didn't, even after adjusting for other factors such as educational level. “The more we can incorporate vegetables, olive oil, and fish into our diets and moderate wine consumption, the better for our aging brains and bodies,” says Christy Tangney, PhD, associate professor of clinical nutrition at Rush University, in a news release.
In the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers analyzed information gathered by the ongoing Chicago Health and Aging Project, which follows 3,759 adults over the age of 65 living on the South Side of Chicago. Every three years, the participants took tests of memory and basic math skills and filled out a questionnaire on how often they eat 139 different foods. The study follow-up time was 7.6 years on average.
Researchers looked at how closely the participants followed a Mediterranean diet and then compared it to their scores on age-related cognitive decline. Out of a maximum score of 55 for total adherence to a Mediterranean diet, the average score was 28. The results showed those with higher than average scores had a slower rate of age-related mental decline than those with lower scores. Researchers also looked at how closely the participants followed the Healthy Eating Index-2005, which is based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They found no relationship between adherence to this type of diet and the rate of age-related cognitive decline.
The new data was used to create the International Database on Longevity (IDL), http://www.supercentenarians.org/. “The IDL is the first reliable record of scientifically verified data about supercentenarians on an international scope”, says Heiner Maier from the MPIDR. “It is the best existing account of mortality beyond the age of 110.”
Finding the supercentenarians was an unusual task for the demographers, as they could not rely on standard statistical methods. In each country the scientists designed their own strategy of how to identify probable candidates of the super old, and then prove their age by locating official documents that confirmed their date of birth and date of death (or current age if still living).
But there were challenges. In the late 19th century, when the supercentenarians were born, many countries didn't have a central birth register, and often original documents were lost, misplaced or forgotten. So the scientists needed to search through a massive amount of certificates, census lists, death registers and the paper files of universities and health and security administrations to identify supercentenarians.
The findings varied between countries. In the United States 341 supercententarians were eventually found (309 women and 32 men), whereas in the much smaller country of Denmark only two women were verified as being over 110. In some cases going through all of the records would have been logistically impossible. In Germany, for instance, the researchers would have had to sort through records of roughly 8000 Residence Registry Offices. Luckily, however, researchers found a much faster method – they asked the Office of the German President for help. The President keeps a directory of residents older than 100 in order to send birthday congratulations. With the list in hand the researchers easily tracked down 17 supercentenarians.
The record holder in longevity is still the French woman Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122. The book “Supercentenarians” celebrates her life – how she met the painter Vincent van Gogh when she was 13, how she later allowed herself one glass of port and one cigarette a day, and how she liked good food and wine, including cakes and chocolate, which she ate every day. When the demographers James Vaupel and Bernard Jeune, two of the authors of “Supercentenarians,” visited her at age 120, she remarked that the most important thing in her long life was that “I had fun. I am having fun.”
Chris Mortensen's long life is also detailed in the book. Born in Denmark, he died at 115 in the United States. Still the record holder as the world's oldest living man, at his advanced age he still smoked cigars, and lived as long as the Dutch woman Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper. Despite being born prematurely with a weight of only three pounds, she nevertheless avoided major life-threatening diseases until her nineties, when she was diagnosed with a breast cancer, and ultimately died of stomach cancer. The African American woman Bettie Wilson who died at the age of 115 even survived a gall bladder surgery at age 114. And Elizabeth Bolden, also an African American woman, who was deeply religious and had ten great-great-great grandchildren, was allegedly completely mentally fit and was able to recount all the major details of her life on her 112th birthday.
What is striking is that many of the super old avoided dementia, at least until shortly before they died. Now researchers want to expand the use of the International Database on Longevity (IDL) and use its data to investigate mortality at advanced age and the reasons for an extra long life. But these reasons are still elusive. So far the only thing for certain is that being a woman is clearly advantageous, since ninety percent of those celebrating their 115th birthday were women. Having ancestors who lived exceptionally long played as little a role as economic background and half of the supercentenarians had no children. It is unclear, however, whether this evidence will remain constant with future supercentenarians. The search for the secret of super old age has only just begun.
Good nutrition is important at every stage of life, from infancy through late adulthood. The basics of a balanced diet remain the same but individual nutritional needs change as you grow older. No matter what your age, it is never too late to start living a healthier life.
Whether you are 50 or 85, active or homebound, your food choices will affect your overall health in the years ahead. The risk for certain diseases associated with aging such as heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes can be reduced with a lifestyle that includes healthy eating. Good nutrition also helps in the treatment and recovery from illness. While healthy living can't turn back the clock, it can help you feel good longer.
Eating healthfully means consuming a variety of good foods each day. Food provides the energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber and water you need for good health. For one reason or another your body may not be getting the right amounts of these nutrients.
There are several factors that indicate an increased risk for poor nutrition. If you have three or more of the risk factors listed below consult with Nastaran or your doctor:
- ill health
- poor eating habits
- unexpected weight gain or loss
- taking medications
- poor dental health
- economic hardship
- loneliness and lack of social contacts
- the inability to care for yourself