Saturday, February 22, 2014

Are Your Food Choices Causing Premature Aging?

Your colleague follows a Paleo Diet. Your boss is gluten-free. Your sister swears she turned lactose intolerant last week and your roommate is an acolyte of Michael Pollan. So who’s right? Maybe they all are.

In research published January of 2014 in Cell Metabolism, USC scientists Sean Curran and Shanshan Pang identified a collection of genes that allow an organism to adapt to different diets and showed that without the genes, even minor tweaks to diets can cause premature aging or death.

A genetic explanation for an organism’s dietary needs suggests that different individuals may be genetically predisposed to thrive on different diets and that now, in the age of gene sequencing, people might be able to identify which diet is best suited for them through a simple blood test.

“These studies have revealed that single gene mutations can alter the ability of an organism to utilize a specific diet. In humans, small differences in a person’s genetic makeup that change how well these genes function could explain why certain diets work for some but not others,” said Curran, corresponding author of the study and assistant professor with joint appointments in the USC Davis School of Gerontology, the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

In their study, Curran and Pang identified a gene called “alh-6”, which delayed the effects of aging depending on what type of diet a worm was fed by protecting it against diet-induced mitochondrial defects.

“This gene is remarkably well-conserved from single-celled yeast all the way up to mammals, which suggests that what we have learned in the worm could translate to a better understanding of the factors that alter diet success in humans,” Curran said.

Future research will focus on identifying what contributes to the success or failure of various diets and whether these factors explain why specific diets don’t work for everyone. This could very well be the start of personalized dieting based on an individual’s genetic makeup, according to Curran. As he puts it; “We hope to uncover ways to enhance the use of any dietary program and perhaps even figure out ways of overriding the system(s) that prevent the use of one diet in certain individuals.”

Curran, S., Shanshan, P. (2014). Adaptive capacity to bacteria diet modulates aging in c. elegans. Cell Metabolism. 19(2), 221-231. 

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