November 16, 2015  Print

An apple a day keeps the doctor awayIn a first of its kind study, researchers from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research have discovered that the old adage ‘an apple a day’ may well be the secret to healthy ageing.

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Gerontology, scientists from the Institute found that adults who closely adhered to recommended national dietary guidelines reached old age with an absence of chronic diseases and disability, and had good functional and mental health status.

Using data compiled from the Blue Mountains Eye Study, a benchmark population-based study which examined long-term risk factors for sensory loss as well as systemic diseases, researchers explored the relationship between overall diet quality and successful ageing in older adults.

More than 1,600 participants who were aged 49 and older and who were free from cancer, coronary artery disease and stroke were administered with a food frequency questionnaire which looked at intake of selected food groups and nutrients outlined in the national dietary guidelines.

An analysis of the 10-year follow-up data showed that an adherence to dietary guidelines resulted in what the researchers defined as ‘successful ageing’.

This included an absence of disability, depressive symptoms, cognitive impairment, respiratory symptoms, and chronic diseases including cancer, coronary artery disease, and stroke.

Associate Professor Bamini Gopinath from the Westmead Institute’s Centre for Vision Research said that the results of the study, which was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, convey an important public health message.

“It’s a simple message: by maintaining a healthy diet, you can age successfully,” Associate Professor Gopinath said.

“Including the recommended serves of fruit and vegetables, fish, and wholegrains in your diet, and minimising your intake of saturated fats and red meat can have a significant influence on your health in later life.”

“It also highlights to clinicians such as GPs and geriatricians the need to promote the message to older patients about the importance of adhering to recommended dietary guidelines, and to refer older patients to dietitians for assistance in maintaining a healthy diet.”

Associate Professor Gopinath said this is the first study that has looked at how adhering to recommended dietary guidelines influences aging status in the longer term.

“While we still need confirmation by other larger longitudinal studies, this is a good indicator and it sets the ground for future studies in this area.”