Healthy aging in focus: ‘The surface has barely been scratched’

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

As the average lifespan continues to increase in many countries due to advances in science and medicine, so too does the conversation around healthy aging, progressing from an interest in understanding its origins to studying how to reduce, delay, or reverse its effects.

A conference report co-authored by 10 scientific experts from the CRN-International (Council of Responsible Nutrition) Scientific Symposium took a deep dive into how to begin defining and analyzing healthy aging.

“Once thought of as merely the absence of disability and chronic disease with longevity, the term healthy aging has evolved to mean much more,”​ the report's coauthors wrote.

“We’re starting to think more along the lines of what is a healthy life span and trying to not just focus on the last period of one’s life,”​ Jim Griffiths, vice president, scientific & international affairs, CRN, told NutraIngredients-USA.

“Though definitions of healthy aging continue to evolve, the surface has barely been scratched.”

According to Griffiths, it's crucial to identify all controllable and uncontrollable factors that play a role in shaping quality of life in older populations. More access to better data will also be important going forward in trying to enhance the aging process for  older adults.

“Limited availability or access to data, lack of specific information, and out of date statistics present challenges to better understanding this life stage, and the scientific and medical communities must commit to expanding the existing literature in order to develop strategies to enhance healthy aging for older adults around the globe,”​ he said.

WHO public-health framework

In the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2015 World Report on Ageing and Health and its 2016 Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health (GSAP), coauthors noted that healthy aging is a person-centered concept that focuses less on morbidity and disease, and more on “the intrinsic capacity of the individual, the environments they inhabit, and the interaction between them.”

According to the WHO, Intrinsic capacity is determined by many factors, including underlying physiological and psychological changes, health-related behaviors and the presence or absence of disease. These in turn are strongly influenced by the environments in which people have lived throughout their lives.

As part of the 2015 WHO Report and GSAP, all member states set a plan to in motion to establish partnerships and agreed upon goals including a setting up a so-called Decade for Healthy Ageing 2021–2030​ aligned to Agenda 2030, a set of goals established by the United Nations in 2015. One strategic area of this agenda is to “Improve measurement, monitoring and research”​ with a sub-objective to agree on ways to describe, measure, analyze and monitor healthy aging and document a baseline across countries by 2020.

Importance of biomarkers

While the report discussed various lifestyle options and nutritional approaches to improve the quality and longevity of one’s life, the need for and access to biomarker data was identified as an essential component to improving the industry’s understanding of healthy aging.  

“New clinical studies of healthy aging are needed and quantitative biomarkers are an essential component, particularly tools which can measure improvements in physiological integrity throughout life, thought to be a primary contributor to a long and productive life (a healthy ‘lifespan’),” ​wrote the coauthors.

Personal biomarker testing technology is a growing industry making micronutrient analysis more accessible.

Berlin/Boston-based nutrition tech firm, Baze​, has developed an at-home blood sampling kit that allows users to sample their own blood for a micronutrient analysis of eight key nutrients. Based on the analysis, the company supplies a tailored supplement pack and consumers are encouraged to continue to check their blood nutrient status every three months or so to see the effectiveness of the supplements.

“I think there’s a lot of interesting research and technology with coming up with biomarkers that can be monitored​ – Some of these technologies are getting much more refined and much more economical,” ​Griffiths said.

“I think we are the beginning of something that could be a real revolution.”

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