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Nutritional Considerations for Healthy Aging and Reduction in Age-Related Chronic Disease

Photo credit: Francesco Nigro/Pixabay
January 23, 2017

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Siobhan Gallagher

NEW YORK and BOSTON — Improving dietary resilience and better integration of nutrition in the health care system can promote healthy aging and may significantly reduce the financial and societal burden of the “silver tsunami.”  This is the key finding of a “Nutritional Considerations for Healthy Aging and Reduction in Age-Related Chronic Disease,” a new paper initiated under the auspices of the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science Working Group on Nutrition for Aging Population, and published in Advances in Nutrition.  

By 2050, the number of persons aged 80 years old and over will reach 392 million, about three times the 2013 population. According to the report, an increasingly large portion of the population will be vulnerable to nutritional frailty, a state commonly seen in older adults, characterized by sudden significant weight-loss and loss of muscle mass and strength, or an essential loss of physiologic reserves, making the person susceptible to disability. Ironically, while increasing numbers of older adults are obese, many are also susceptible to nutritional frailty and, as a result, age-related diseases including sarcopenia, cognitive decline, and infectious disease.

The review concludes that exploring dietary resilience, defined as a conceptual model to describe material, physical, psychological and social factors that influence food purchase, preparation and consumption, is needed to better understand older adults’ access to meal quality and mealtime experience. A recent model to frame food intake includes the addition of more randomized clinical trials that include older adults with disease and medication. This will help to identify their specific nutrient needs, biomarkers to understand the impact of advancing age on protein requirements, skeletal muscle turnover and a re-evaluation of how BMI guidelines are used.

“A nutritional assessment model that takes into consideration the effect of aging on muscle mass, weight loss and nutrient absorption is crucial to overall wellness in our elderly population,” said Gilles Bergeron, Ph.D., executive director, The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences, New York, NY. “However, nutrition recommendations are usually based on that of a typical healthy adult, and fail to consider the effect of aging on muscle mass, weight loss, and nutrient absorption and utilization.”

Simin Nikbin Meydani, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of the Nutritional Immunology Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA concurs. “Much greater emphasis needs to be placed on prioritizing research that will fill the knowledge gaps and provide the kind of data needed by health and nutrition experts if we’re going to address this problem,” she said. “There also needs to be more education about on-going nutritional needs for those involved with elder-care – not only in a clinical setting, but also for family members who are responsible for aging adults.”

Additional authors of this review are Julie Shlisky, Ph.D., consultant at The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science; David E. Bloom, Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Boston; Amy R. Beaudreault, World Food Center, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA; Katherine L. Tucker, Department of Clinical Laboratory and Nutritional Sciences, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, MA; Heather H Keller, Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging, Applied Health Sciences, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; Yvonne Freund-Levi, Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society (NVS), Division of Clinical Geriatrics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, Department of Geriatrics, Karolinska University Hospital, Huddinge, Sweden and Department of Psychiatry, Tiohundra Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden; Roger A Fielding, Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts; Feon W. Cheng, University of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington, VT; and Gordon L. Jensen, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA; and Dayong Wu, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston, MA. Please see the review for conflicts of interest.

Shlisky, J., Bloom, D. E., Beaudreault, A. R., Tucker, K. L., Keller, H. H., Freund-Levi, Y., Fielding, R. A., Cheng, F. W., Jensen, G. L., Wu, D., Meydani, S. M.. (2017, January); 8:17-26. Nutritional considerations for healthy aging and reduction in age-related chronic disease. Advances in Nutrition. doi:10.3945/an.116.013474.

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About the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science

The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science is dedicated to developing and advancing science-based solutions to the pressing challenges in the field of nutrition.  To accomplish this Mission, The Sackler Institute convenes and coordinates with experts across basic and applied biomedical research fields that are impacted by nutrition. In addition it develops roadmaps leading to the implementation of evidence-based solutions globally, supports research and drives nutrition research and to advocate for positive changes in nutrition policy and practice globally.

About the New York Academy of Sciences

The New York Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organization that, since 1817, has been driving innovative solutions to society’s challenges by advancing scientific research, education, and policy. With more than 20,000 members in 100 countries, the Academy is creating a global community of science for the benefit of humanity. Please visit us online at http://www.nyas.org/and follow us on Twitter @NYASciences.

About the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy
For three decades, the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University has studied the relationship between good nutrition and good health in aging populations. Tufts research scientists work with federal agencies to establish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Dietary Reference Intakes, and other significant public policies. The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is the only independent school of nutrition in the United States. The school’s eight degree programs – which focus on questions relating to nutrition and chronic diseases, molecular nutrition, agriculture and sustainability, food security, humanitarian assistance, public health nutrition, and food policy and economics – are renowned for the application of scientific research to national and international policy.

Tufts University


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