PUMPING IRONY: Thin Gruel

Recent anti-aging research has left me hungry for better advice.

spoonful of pills

Scientists at Pohang University of Science & Technology (POSTECH) in Korea last month submitted the latest in a recent spate of anti-aging research that seems intent on spoiling every geezer’s appetite.

What Is FOXO?

The POSTECH researchers reportedly discovered a link between the taste or smell of your lunch and your rate of aging. It seems that our sensory neurons — nerve cells that send messages to the brain — can accelerate the aging process by triggering the production of a hormone called insulin-6 or delay it by pumping out an anti-aging protein called FOXO.

This knowledge would be greeted with more enthusiasm among the AARP set, I suspect, if scientists had hinted at what flavors or aromas were most likely to result in an infusion of FOXO rather than insulin-6, but we’re left to guess. I’m personally hoping the FOXO starts to flow when I’ve got a pot roast in the oven, because I really like pot roast. If it’s sauerkraut, I’m in trouble.

An earlier study out of Oregon State University, however, may render the whole FOXO/insulin-6 dynamic moot. Scientists there tested the “retronasal” abilities of 102 subjects ranging in age from 18 to 72 and concluded that the older you get, the less acute is your ability to smell through your mouth. Since I have never been aware of an ability to smell through my mouth, these findings are not particularly discouraging. In fact, I’ve already stopped worrying about my FOXO production.

Just in case I should grow complacent, though, the Gerontological Society of America has weighed in with new research suggesting that I should probably be eating more fiber.

The study followed 1,600 people aged 50 and older for 10 years and found that dietary fiber consumption contributed to healthy aging more than other factors, including total carbohydrate intake, glycemic index, glycemic load, and sugar intake. “Essentially, we found that those who had the highest intake of fiber or total fiber actually had an almost 80 percent greater likelihood of living a long and healthy life over a 10-year follow-up,” said lead study author Bamini Gopinath, PhD. “That is, they were less likely to suffer from hypertension, diabetes, dementia, depression, and functional disability.”

Years ago, I made a feeble attempt to log my nutrient intake via one of those online dietary sites and was astonished to discover how much fiber one could accumulate by eating a single orange. But a guy can only eat so many oranges, so at the end of the day my fiber numbers did not impress. So, you can imagine my delight to learn that Canadian scientists have come up with a solution to my olfactory- and nutrition-challenged longevity dilemma: All I’ll need to do is take a pill.

The good news comes from McMaster University, where researchers are lauding the healthy-aging impact of a new dietary supplement containing a mix of 30 common vitamins and minerals. Lab mice that had lost more than half of their brain cells were given the supplement on small pieces of bagels for several months. By the end of the study, their brain-cell loss had been completely reversed.

I don’t pretend to understand scientific methods; like most of us, I’m captive to emotions, habits, and a stubborn skepticism when faced with information that doesn’t conform to my world view. Maybe the McMaster breakthrough, for instance, was not the result of the supplement. Maybe it was all about the bagels.

This leads me to wonder about the fiber content of bagels and their ability to induce some mysterious part of my brain to send a signal to produce some FOXO. I’m not a big bagel fan, but I’m not opposed to increasing my intake if it might retrieve some of the brain cells I’ve lost over the years. Just don’t make me eat any sauerkraut.

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