Eating Food from Elderly Plants and Animals May Shorten the Lifespan

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by Nils Osmar – updated August 18, 2022 – Medical Disclaimer

Could eating old food — as in, food derived from “elderly” plants and animals whose cells and tissues have accumulated genetic or metabolic damage — accelerate aging and shorten the lifespan?

Vadim N. Gladyshev, a professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital,Harvard Medical School who specializes in antioxidant biology, believes that it might.

In an experiment whose results were published in 2017, Gladyshev hypothesized that just as we can acquire beneficial nutrients from food, eating food from “elderly” food sources might cause organisms to age faster than they would if they ate food from organisms that had not lived long enough to acquire such damage. (See study: “Age- associated molecular changes are deleterious and may modulate life span through diet“)

Testing the Theory

To test the theory that eating food from aged organisms might accelerate aging, Gladyshev first fed yeast and fruit flies on food made from “young” and “old” sources. According to an article published in Harvard Magazine:

…Gladyshev and his collaborators found that feeding a diet of “old” organisms to yeast, fruit flies, and mice shortened their lifespans by roughly 10 percent…

The team replicated the same basic procedure in fruit flies and mice: they collected 5,000 freshly dead flies that had lived an average of 45 days, and sacrificed 5,000 others that were three to five days old. Then they prepared two homogenized diets, one composed of young flies and the other using the old ones. They fed these diets to young female fruit flies….

The mice were fed diets of skeletal muscle—“meat, basically,” Gladyshev says—from young and old farmed red deer (three years old versus 25) that replaced the animal-product components (insects, carrion, worms, etc.) of a normal mouse diet….

Results of the Study

The result was interesting, and did show a possible connection between the age of the food and the age of the organism eating it. The fruit flies fed on younger food lived 18 percent longer than the control group. Female mice eating the meat from young deer lives 13 percent longer. There was less of an effect in male mice.

Implications

The theory that eating food from “old” organisms can speed up the aging process is an interesting hypothesis, but more studies would be needed to clarify, for example, why only female mice seemed to respond with improved longevity. At this point it’s just a theory, and could be modified or disproven.

But if more research turns out to support it, it raises the question of whether we might be able to slow the aging process somewhat by choosing food from younger plants and animals — or conversely, avoid eating food from “old” plants and animals.

This might take the form of eating very young plants instead of more mature ones, or, for those who eat animal-based food, choosing veal instead of bovine, or lamb instead of sheep. Meat labeled “veal” is from younger cows; meat from adult cows is labeled “beef.” Lamb are sheep that are less than a year old.

It might also suggest that we’d be better off planting garden, then harvesting the edible plants in a week or two when they’re still very young, rather than waiting for them to get so old they’re almost ready to go to seed — or eating sprouts rather than plants. This is borne out by studies which have found that sprouts, generally speaking, tend to be higher in nutrients than fully-grown versions of the same plants.

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Image Credit

Image by Monoar Rahman Rony from Pixabay

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