The lead investigator of the study, Tasnime Akbaraly, PhD, Inserm, Montpellier, France, said:
"The impact of diet on specific age-related diseases has been studied extensively, but few investigations have adopted a more holistic approach to determine the association of diet with overall health at older ages.
We examined whether diet, assessed in midlife, using dietary patterns and adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI), is associated with aging phenotypes, identified after a mean 16-year follow-up."
The AHEI is an index used to calculate diet quality as well as provide dietary guidelines to help combat chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The researchers used results from the British Whitehall II* cohort study to find evidence to suggest that following the AHEI can help in reversing metabolic syndrome, which is a strong predictor of heart disease. The team tried to identify dietary factors that contribute to ideal aging and premature death.
* The Whitehall II study was established in 1985 by Professor Sir Michael Marmot and his University College London team to investigate the importance of social class for health by following a cohort of 10,308 male and female civil servants in the United Kingdom.
In the Whitehall II study, the researchers analyzed a total of 3,775 men as well as 1,575 women from 1985-2009 with a mean age of 51 years. They used hospital data, results of screenings conducted every five years, and registry data. The researchers identified chronic diseases among the participants.
They classified the outcomes in 5 different categories:
- Ideal aging, defined as free of chronic conditions and high performance in physical, mental, and cognitive functioning tests - 4.0 percent
- Nonfatal cardiovascular event - 12.7 percent
- Noncardiovascular death - 7.3 percent
- Normal aging - 73.2 percent
People who followed a Western-type diet were at a lower risk of ideal aging.
In a previous study published in the December 29, 2005, issue of the journal Cell, researchers revealed a molecular link between a high-fat, Western-style diet, and the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Akbaraly, concluded:
"We showed that following specific dietary recommendations such as the one provided by the AHEI may be useful in reducing the risk of unhealthy aging, while avoidance of the 'Western-type foods' might actually improve the possibility of achieving older ages free of chronic diseases and remaining highly functional. A better understanding of the distinction between specific health behaviors that offer protection against diseases and those that move individuals towards ideal aging may facilitate improvements in public health prevention packages."