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A "Western style" diet may lead to premature death

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Western style diet could lead to early death

A Western-style diet of fried and sweet foods, processed and red meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products may reduce a person’s chances of living to a ripe old age while remaining in good health with higher functionality, says a new study in the May issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

"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," says the study’s lead investigator Tasnime Akbaraly, PhD, Inserm, Montpellier, France.

"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," Dr. Akbaraly added.

The Alternative Healthy Eating Index, or AHEI, is a validated index of diet quality. It was originally designed to provide dietary guidelines that were specifically intended to help prevent and battle major chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

As part of their research, investigators analyzed results from a British study that found following the AHEI can double the odds of reversing metabolic syndrome – a condition that is a strong predictor of heart disease and mortality. The goal of the researchers was to identify certain dietary factors that can prevent premature death, as well as promote optimal aging.

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The research team followed 3,775 men and 1,575 women from 1985 to 2009 from the British study who, on average, were 51 years old. They utilized a mixture of hospital data, screening results from every five years, and registry data to help them identify mortality and chronic diseases among the study’s participants.

The outcomes were classified at follow-up stage into 5 categories as indicated below:

1. Ideal aging, defined as free of chronic conditions and high performance in physical, mental, and cognitive functioning tests (4.0 percent)
2. Nonfatal cardiovascular event (12.7 percent)
3. Cardiovascular death (2.8 percent)
4. Noncardiovascular death (7.3 percent)
5. Normal aging (73.2 percent)

The study determined that those who failed to stick to the AHEI actually increased their risk of cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular death. The participants who followed a "Western-type diet" of fried and sweet food, processed food and red meat, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products decreased their chances for reaching an older age in good health without chronic disease.

"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," said Dr. Akbaraly. "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."

SOURCE: Does Overall Diet in Midlife Predict Future Aging Phenotypes? A Cohort Study. The American Journal of Medicine, Volume 126, Issue 5 (May 2013) DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2012.10.028

This page is updated on May 11, 2013.