Diet could help keep ageing cells healthy

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers know ageing is associated with DNA damage or epigenetic changes in cells that lead to diseases like cancer. A new finding suggests what happens at a cellular level with ageing is also influenced by our diet.

For their study, researchers from the Institute of Food Research led by Dr Nigel Belshaw, working with Prof John Mathers and colleagues from Newcastle University looked at cells in the gut in patients undergoing colonoscopy to understand colon cancer risk related to dietary nutrients.

The researchers were looking at epigenetic changes in cells in the colon known as DNA methylation. They also looked at the relationship between age, sex, body size and levels of vitamin D, selenium and folate in the study volunteers’ blood.

Not surprisingly, the researchers found the biggest influence on DNA methylation and colon cancer risk was age, which is why colonoscopy is recommended when we reach age 50. They also found higher vitamin D and selenium levels were associated with lower levels of methylation, which supports the importance of dietary vitamins and mineral nutrients for preventing bowel cancer.


Men had higher frequency of epigenetic changes, which puts them at higher risk for bowel cancer. It’s known that men are at higher risk for the disease.

Too much of the vitamin folate in the blood that is essential for health was linked to higher chance of bowel cancer. Studies have suggested too much of the B vitamin could raise risk of the disease. Dr. Belshaw and his group previously found they could induce changes in DNA that can lead to colon cancer in lab cells. The researchers are planning more studies to understand how folate might lead to DNA methylation.

The researchers also found that obesity leads to epigenetic changes that can raise cancer risk. Being overweight or obese or having an increased waist circumference is also a known risk factor for the disease. The results of the study show healthy ageing really is influenced by what we eat. The researchers are planning more studies into the epigenetic effects of diet and DNA methylation.

Institute of Food Research

Image credit: Morguefile

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