Why Animal-Based (Carnivore) Diets Accelerate Aging
Time to read 18 min
Time to read 18 min
For decades health professionals' have kept us guessing when it comes to the health benefits of animal-based and plant-based diets. And if you are like the rest of the population, you are probably sitting in that land of confusion as well.
The truth is plant-based and animal-based diets both have their own set of pros and cons, which we will delve into further in this article and deliver you some clarity around the topic.
But first…you shouldn't just believe everything you read right.
We look at the debate from all angles including how high-animal protein diets accelerate fundamental aging processes and reveal how a plant-based diet can also increase aging without proper preparation and understanding. Our approach is from science; science that looks at the long-term effects of food choices.
Speaking of the long term, let's start with longevity studies.
Various population studies have consistently shown that individuals who consume lower amounts of animal protein tend to have longer lifespans. These studies include the Blue Zones, where people live exceptionally long and healthy lives, and the Adventist Health Study, which found a correlation between plant-based diets and increased lifespan. (R, R).
Now let's delve into what they tell us we should eat less of.
A high animal-based protein diet is a specific type of diet that primarily relies on animal-based sources for protein intake. Most of the protein consumed comes from animal-derived foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. In a high animal-based protein diet, these animal-based protein sources often comprise a significant portion of the daily calorie intake. The consumption of plant-based protein sources, such as legumes or tofu, is typically limited in this diet.
The proportion of animal-based protein in the diet can vary, but it is generally higher than the recommended daily intake or the average protein consumption in a population. It's worth noting that a high animal protein diet does not necessarily mean it is a high protein diet overall, as the total protein intake can still vary depending on the individual's needs and goals.
It is crucial to consider the potential health implications of a high animal protein diet, as excessive consumption of animal protein sources may lead to an increased intake of saturated fats, cholesterol, and other components that have been associated with certain health risks. (R)
Many fad diets do promote a high animal-based protein diet. Meat eaters often believe these diets are healthy for several reasons:
Cultural and societal norms: In many cultures, meat consumption is deeply ingrained in traditional diets. People often grow up believing that meat is a vital source of nutrition and necessary for overall health. Societal norms and traditions reinforce these beliefs. One example of a belief is that people (our ancestors) ate a lot of meat. This belief is flawed; firstly, no science can confirm this, and in reality, meat was likely quite hard to come by. Secondly, this consumption of meat was not necessarily linked to longevity.
Nutritional benefits: Meat is a rich source of essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins (particularly B vitamins like B12), minerals like iron and zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids (in certain types of fish). These nutrients are essential for various bodily functions and good health.
Personal experience: Some individuals may feel healthier or have positive outcomes from including meat in their diet. After consuming meat-based meals, they may experience increased energy levels, improved muscle growth, or better satiety. These personal experiences can reinforce the belief that their diet is healthy.
Perceived completeness of protein: Animal-based protein is often considered a complete protein source, providing all the essential amino acids necessary for the body. This perception leads some to believe that animal protein is superior to plant-based protein sources, which may be perceived as incomplete.
Media and industry influence: The meat industry and some media outlets often promote the health benefits of meat consumption. This can lead to biased information or the perception that meat is essential to a healthy diet. It's important to note that while meat can provide essential nutrients, a healthy diet can be achieved through various eating patterns, including plant-based diets. Ultimately, the belief that a particular diet is healthy is subjective and influenced by personal experiences, cultural factors, and available information. It's crucial for individuals to critically evaluate their dietary choices and consider a balanced and diverse intake of nutrients for optimal health.
The debate between plant-based and animal-based (carnivore) diets has been a prominent topic in the field of nutrition and health, and there are plenty of studies to back either side of the debate (R,R,R,R,R,R,R). Let's look closer at the key differences, advantages, and potential drawbacks of each dietary approach:
Plant-based diets consist primarily of foods derived from plants, such as vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Small amounts of animal products may or may not be consumed.
Environmentally friendly: Plant-based diets generally have a lower carbon footprint, requiring fewer resources and producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions than meat-based diets (R).
Carnivore diets focus primarily on animal products, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy, with little to no plant-based foods.
When it comes to longevity, plant-based is beginning to lead the way. Let's learn more about the science behind why animal protein accelerates aging.
(1) "Blue zones" refers to regions where people tend to live longer and have lower rates of age-related diseases. These regions include Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, and Nicoya in Costa Rica.
One common characteristic among these populations is relatively low animal protein intake, particularly red and processed meats. Instead, their diets are typically plant-based, emphasising whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and moderate amounts of fish (R).
(2) Protein accumulation is indeed considered one of the hallmarks of aging. As our bodies age, they undergo various cellular and molecular changes contributing to aging. Protein accumulation, specifically the buildup of damaged or misfolded proteins, is a critical aspect of this aging phenomenon (R).
(3) Two primary forms of protein accumulation are associated with aging. Oxidative Damage is one of them. As we age, our cells become less efficient in handling reactive oxygen species (ROS) or free radicals. ROS are byproducts of normal cellular metabolism and can damage proteins, lipids, and DNA. When exposed to ROS, proteins can undergo oxidative modifications, leading to misfolding or cross-linking. This can impair their normal function and disrupt cellular processes, contributing to aging and age-related diseases (R).
(4) Over time, cells accumulate misfolded or damaged proteins due to various stressors, including oxidative stress, environmental factors, and genetic mutations. These misfolded proteins are unable to carry out their intended functions correctly. Moreover, they can aggregate and form clumps or aggregates, leading to cellular dysfunction and contributing to age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's (R).
(5) Some evidence suggests that reducing protein intake, specifically the intake of specific amino acids, may positively affect lifespan in certain organisms (R).
(6) This phenomenon is linked to and known as dietary restriction or caloric restriction, where overall calorie intake is reduced without causing malnutrition.
(7) it is believed that reducing protein intake as well as fast carbs can promote cellular stress resistance, improve mitochondrial function, and modulate nutrient-sensing pathways such as the insulin/insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) signalling pathway, which plays a role in aging and longevity (R)
(8) Studies have shown that restricting the essential amino acid methionine has been linked to a longer lifespan (R).
(9) There is some evidence suggesting that a high animal protein diet, specifically including meat, may not be beneficial for healthy aging (R). Milk has also been put in the spotlight for possessing qualities that are not so great for aging; most evidence is theoretical, but watch this space.
(10) Animal protein, especially red and processed meats, has been linked to increased inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are associated with aging and age-related diseases (R, R, R, R).
(11) Several studies have shown that a high intake of red and processed meats (which are animal protein sources) is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. These diseases can contribute to a shorter lifespan (R, R, R).
(12) Animal protein consumption has been shown to alter the composition of gut microbiota, the trillions of microorganisms living in our digestive system that play a crucial role in overall health. Some studies have suggested that a high animal protein diet can lead to an imbalance in gut microbiota, contributing to various health issues, including age-related diseases (R).
(13) High animal protein intake, particularly from red meat, has been associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Animal protein can increase the production of acid in the body, leading to increased calcium excretion, which can weaken bones over time. On the other hand, plant-based protein sources, such as legumes and leafy greens, are often accompanied by beneficial nutrients like calcium and magnesium that support bone health (R).
(14) Not all animal proteins are equal, and some lean sources like fish and poultry may have different health effects compared to red and processed meats. Additionally, individual factors, such as overall dietary patterns, lifestyle choices, and genetic variations, can influence how individuals respond to different types and amounts of protein.
(15) Some evidence suggests that certain types of animal protein may activate aging pathways in the body. One of the main pathways implicated in aging is the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway. mTOR is a key regulator of cell growth and metabolism, and its dysregulation has been linked to age-related diseases and decreased lifespan (R).
(16) Animal protein, including whey protein, and in particular sources high in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) such as leucine, has been shown to activate the mTOR pathway. When constantly activated, mTOR can lead to increased cell growth and proliferation, which could accelerate the aging process (R).
(17) There is scientific evidence suggesting that substances like rapamycin, which inhibit aging pathways, particularly the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR), can extend lifespan in certain organisms (R).
(18) Too much growth, when uncontrolled and unregulated, can accelerate aging. This concept is closely related to the "hyperfunction theory of aging" proposed by Dr. Mikhail Blagosklonny. This theory supports aging can be attributed, at least in part, to an excess of specific cellular processes, particularly those related to growth-promoting pathways, such as the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway (R).
(19) Animal protein has been associated with higher insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and insulin levels. These hormones play a role in growth and development. Lower IGF-1 and insulin levels have been linked to enhanced longevity and a reduced risk of age-related diseases (R).
(20) People with dwarfism, particularly those with conditions like Laron syndrome, have been observed to have a reduced risk of developing aging-related diseases such as cancer and type 2 diabetes (R).
(21)Numerous studies have shown that animals and individuals with mutations or alterations in the growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor (IGF), or insulin axis often exhibit extended lifespans and a reduced risk of aging-related diseases (R).
(22) The use of substances that promote muscle growth, such as growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) inducers, and testosterone boosters, has been associated with potential health risks, including an increased risk of developing aging-related diseases (R, R, R).
(23) Evolutionary theory suggests that natural selection may favour genetic variants that confer fitness benefits early in life, even if they have detrimental effects later in life. In some species, genes that promote early reproductive success may be favoured by natural selection, leading to increased fertility and growth during the early stages of life. However, these same genes may contribute to the aging process, potentially leading to the development of age-related diseases later in life (R).
(24) Persistent activation of growth-related pathways, driven by excessive protein consumption, can lead to increased cellular growth and proliferation beyond what is necessary for maintenance and repair. If not properly regulated, this excessive cell growth could contribute to cellular dysfunction, promote inflammation, and increase the risk of certain aging-related diseases, such as cancer (R).
(25) Animal protein reduces autophagy. Autophagy is crucial for maintaining cellular health and has been implicated in several aspects of aging and age-related diseases (R).
(28) Proteins comprise of amino acids, and different protein sources have different amino acid profiles. Animal proteins are considered "complete" proteins because they contain all the essential amino acids the body needs. Plant proteins, on the other hand, are often considered "incomplete" as they may lack one or more essential amino acids. However, by combining different plant protein sources, such as beans, rice, lentils, and quinoa, one can obtain all the essential amino acids necessary (R).
(29) Animal proteins are generally more easily digested and absorbed by the body than plant proteins. This is because animal proteins have a higher biological value, providing more usable amino acids. However, the digestibility of plant proteins can be improved by cooking, soaking, or fermenting them (R).
(30) Animal proteins, such as meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products, are good sources of essential nutrients like vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. On the other hand, plant proteins tend to be lower in some of these nutrients but are often rich in fibre, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, which have their own health benefits (R).
(31) High intake of animal protein, mainly processed and red meats, has been associated with an increased risk of specific health issues, such as heart disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes. When consumed as part of a balanced diet, plant-based proteins have been linked to lower risks of these diseases (R, R).
(33) Some studies suggest that specific amino acids found in animal protein foods, such as methionine and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), may have a role in aging and age-related diseases (R).
(34) Excessive meat intake can contribute to an imbalance in microbial diversity. Excessive meat intake can also contribute to inflammation in the gut and alter the integrity of the gut barrier. A weakened gut barrier can lead to the absorption of harmful substances and contribute to autoimmune and age-related diseases (R, R).
(35) Animal meats, particularly red and processed meats, are often high in saturated fats and cholesterol. Consuming excessive amounts of saturated fats has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and high cholesterol levels (R).
(36) Animal meats contain heme iron, which is more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron in plant-based foods. While iron is an essential nutrient, excessive heme iron intake has been associated with an increased risk of certain health conditions, including heart disease and cancer (R).
(37) Processed meats often contain additives such as nitrates and nitrites, which enhance flavour, colour, and preservation. Some studies have suggested that these additives may be linked to an increased risk of certain cancers (R).
(38) How meat is cooked can also affect its health implications. High-temperature cooking methods like grilling, frying, or barbecuing can produce harmful compounds such as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer (R).
(39) Some conventionally raised animals are given antibiotics and hormones to promote growth and prevent diseases. There are concerns that these substances might negatively affect humans when consumed (R, R).
(41) Plant-based diets can also help in weight management, as they tend to be lower in calories and saturated fats than those with more animal-based foods. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for overall health and can contribute to healthy aging (R).
(42) Other anecdotes usually include claims that reducing animal protein intake improved skin appearance, made them look younger, increased energy levels, or reduced specific health issues (R).
It's fair we now look closer at some of the downfalls of a plant-based diet. While vegetarian and plant-based diets can be healthy when well-planned, there are a few potential challenges or concerns that individuals may face:
Nutrient deficiencies: Vegetarians and vegans may be at higher risk of certain nutrient deficiencies if their diet is not balanced correctly. Essential nutrients that may require attention include vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and iodine. These nutrients are commonly found in animal products, so individuals following a plant-based diet must ensure adequate intake through fortified foods or supplements (R).
Protein variety and quality: Plant-based protein sources may only sometimes provide all the essential amino acids in optimal quantities. It is necessary for individuals following a vegetarian or vegan diet to consume a variety of protein-rich plant foods to ensure they are getting a complete range of amino acids (R).
Micronutrient absorption: Some plant-based foods contain compounds that can hinder the absorption of certain nutrients. For example, phytic acid found in whole grains and legumes can reduce zinc and iron absorption. Soaking, fermenting, or sprouting these foods can help improve nutrient availability (R).
Food availability and convenience: Depending on the location and access to grocery stores, finding a wide variety of vegetarian or vegan options may be challenging. This can make it more difficult to maintain a balanced diet, especially when dining out or travelling.
Social and cultural factors: Following a vegetarian or vegan diet can sometimes be socially challenging, especially when meat consumption is prevalent. It may require additional planning and communication to meet dietary needs in social situations.
Nutritional knowledge and planning: Adopting a plant-based diet requires some knowledge and planning to ensure adequate nutrient intake. Educating oneself about dietary needs, food sources, and potential deficiencies is essential to ensure a well-rounded and balanced diet.
While these challenges exist, with proper planning and attention to nutrient intake, a vegetarian or plant-based diet can still provide all the necessary nutrients for good health.
The best diet for longevity is a balanced and varied diet that focuses on whole, nutrient-dense foods coupled with the correct health and longevity supplements. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, some dietary patterns have been associated with longer lifespans:
Mediterranean diet: This diet emphasises consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It also includes moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and dairy products, while limiting red meat and processed foods. The Mediterranean diet has been linked to reduced risks of heart disease, certain cancers, and overall mortality (R).
Plant-based diet: A plant-based diet, which emphasises fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, while minimising or excluding animal products, has been associated with longevity. Vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy if they are well-planned to ensure adequate nutrient intake (R).
Okinawan diet: The traditional diet of the Okinawan people in Japan is characterised by a high intake of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and soy products, with moderate fish consumption and minimal intake of meat and dairy. This diet has been associated with longevity and lower rates of chronic diseases (R).
Fasting: Fasting involves restricting caloric intake for specified timeframes. Based on scientific research, several fasting methods have shown potential health benefits. Here are a few commonly studied fasting methods:
1. Time-restricted feeding (TRF): This method involves restricting the daily eating window to a specific time frame, typically 8-10 hours, and fasting for the remaining hours of the day. For example, eating only between 10 am and 6 pm. TRF has been shown to improve metabolic health, reduce body weight, and improve insulin sensitivity (R).
2. Alternate-day fasting (ADF): ADF involves alternating between fasting days, where calorie intake is significantly reduced or completely avoided, and non-fasting days, where regular eating can occur. Studies suggest that ADF can lead to weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, and reduced markers of inflammation (R).
3. 5:2 fasting: This method involves consuming a regular diet five days a week and restricting calorie intake to 500-600 calories for two non-consecutive days. This approach has been shown to promote weight loss, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce markers of inflammation (R).
4. Periodic fasting or prolonged fasting: This involves more extended fasting periods, typically lasting 24-72 hours or even longer. Prolonged fasting has various health benefits, including improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, and cellular repair processes (R).
It's important to note that fasting may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with certain medical conditions or who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or underweight. It is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any fasting regimen.
In conclusion, our recommendation is to adopt a balanced approach that includes primarily plant-based foods, a moderate amount of lean animal protein, avoid processed foods (including meats), added sugars and unhealthy fats, avoid overeating, and your goal of longevity and overall health optimisation will be on track.