Article image

Eat well, live longer: A dash of protein could add years to your life

The adage “You are what you eat” has never rung more true. The foods we consume shape our health and longevity, echoing through the course of our lives. 

A direct correlation exists between nutritional needs associated with age and our metabolic health. In essence, our age-specific nutritional balance significantly influences our overall wellness.

Indeed, nutrition that aligns perfectly with our age can sustain our metabolic health, leading to a superior health span – the portion of our life unmarred by disease – and eventually lengthening our lifespan. Previous research has indicated that altering nutritional interventions with diverse calorie and protein intake can bolster the health and lifespan of rodents and primates.

Moreover, the latest research has drawn links between dietary macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates, fats – and cardio-metabolic health and aging in mice. But the enigma persists: what is the precise amount of protein we should eat to maintain metabolic health?

How the research team solved the puzzle

A study published in the journal GeroScience attempts to solve this puzzle. Led by Professor Yoshitaka Kondo from Waseda University, a research team delved into the dietary protein quantity required to boost metabolic health in mice advancing in age.

The researchers gathered young (6 months old) and middle-aged (16 months old) male C57BL/6NCr mice for their investigation. They nourished these rodents with isocaloric diets encompassing variable protein content (5 to 45 %) over a two-month span. 

The effect of diverse protein diets was then evaluated based on skeletal muscle weight, liver and plasma lipid profiles, and self-organizing map (SOM) cluster analysis of plasma amino acid profiles.

“The optimal balance of macronutrients for ideal health outcomes may vary across different life stages,” explained Kondo. “Previous studies show the possibility of minimizing age-specific mortality throughout life by changing the ratio of dietary protein to carbohydrates during approach to old age in mice. However, the amount of protein that should be consumed to maintain metabolic health while approaching old age is still unclear.”

What the researchers learned

The observations were riveting. A low-protein diet culminated in the development of a mild fatty liver, with elevated levels of hepatic lipids in middle-aged mice compared to their younger counterparts. 

On the other hand, a diet with moderate protein resulted in diminished blood glucose concentrations and lipid levels in both liver and plasma. These results signified that a moderate-protein diet (25% and 35%) kept mice – both young and middle-aged – in a metabolically healthier state.

The researchers scrutinized the impact of varying protein diets on plasma amino acid concentrations in mice of both age brackets. They discovered that the plasma concentration of individual amino acids fluctuated with age and varying dietary protein content. 

This revelation was further substantiated using SOM analysis of the plasma amino acids. Additionally, the plasma amino acid profiles, as revealed through SOM analysis, displayed a correlation between differing protein intake and the varying quantities of hepatic triglycerides and cholesterol levels.

“Protein requirements change through the course of life, being higher in younger reproductive mice, reducing through middle age, and rising again in older mice as protein efficiency declines. The same pattern is likely to be observed in humans,” said Kondo.

“Therefore, it could be assumed that increasing daily protein intake in meals could promote metabolic health of people. Moreover, ideal dietary macronutrient balance at each life stage could also extend health span.”

The secret has been under your nose the entire time

Summing it up, the study presents the fascinating proposition that the secret to a long, healthy life might be hidden in our plates – in balanced servings of protein, to be precise. With dietary moderation and age-specific nutrition as guiding principles, maintaining metabolic health might be an achievable feat.

The breakthrough understanding that the optimal balance of dietary protein can minimize age-specific mortality provides an encouraging blueprint for future research in this field. As our understanding deepens, we can hope to see more precise dietary recommendations for different stages of life.

For now, the takeaway message from Kondo and his team’s study is clear: a balanced diet with moderate amounts of protein could indeed be a critical key to unlocking a long, healthy life. So, remember, the next time you plan your meal, a dash of protein might just add years to your life.

More about anti-aging research

Anti-aging research is a broad and rapidly expanding field focused on understanding the biological mechanisms that lead to aging and developing interventions to slow down or even reverse these processes. The aim is to extend both lifespan (how long we live) and healthspan (how long we live without disease).


One significant area of anti-aging research is the study of telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of our chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, its telomeres shorten, and when they become too short, the cell can no longer divide and becomes senescent or dies. Researchers are studying ways to extend the length of telomeres or delay their shortening to promote cellular health and longevity.

Aging at the molecular level 

Another important area of research involves studying the biology of aging at a molecular level. This includes investigating the roles of specific genes and proteins in aging, exploring how DNA damage and repair affect aging, and how cellular processes such as autophagy (the process by which cells remove and recycle their own components) contribute to aging.

Reducing calories

Caloric restriction (reducing daily calorie intake without causing malnutrition) has been shown in multiple organisms, from yeast to primates, to extend lifespan. The mechanisms are not entirely understood, but they may involve changes in metabolism and stress responses. There’s also ongoing research into developing drugs that could mimic the effects of caloric restriction without the need for reduced food intake.

Ability of cells to divide (senescence)

Furthermore, research into senescence – the state in which cells lose their ability to divide and function correctly – is another promising area. Senescent cells accumulate with age and are thought to contribute to aging by causing inflammation and tissue dysfunction. Drugs that can selectively eliminate these senescent cells (known as senolytics) or rejuvenate them are currently under study.

Age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease, and cancer, are also a significant focus of anti-aging research. By understanding how these diseases develop and progress, researchers hope to develop preventative measures and treatments to extend healthspan.

Lifestyle factors

Lastly, research on lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and sleep is essential. These factors have been shown to significantly influence lifespan and healthspan, and researchers are interested in understanding why and how these factors have such profound effects on aging.

It’s important to note that while this research is incredibly promising, aging is a complex process involving many interconnected biological systems. Therefore, it’s unlikely that there will be a “silver bullet” for aging. Instead, anti-aging research will likely lead to a range of interventions that can be used together to extend healthspan and lifespan.


Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day