Posted on 20 January 2021
Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.
Why is this research important: Japan boasts the highest average life expectancy in the world, with over 80,000 people who are over 100 years of age.
But this has not always been the case. As recently as 1970, Japans’ mortality rates were distinctly average for an economically developed country. This was, in part, caused by having extremely high numbers of cerebrovascular deaths.
So why this dramatic shift?
What did the researchers do: Interestingly, in articles published in The Economist, and in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition the authors propose that this (increase in Japanese life expectancy) could be caused by a shift towards a western diet, rather than away from it.
The western diet has become notorious for its negative impact on health and overindulgence. Leading to an obesity epidemic, and the prevalence of type 2 diabetes and heart disease we see throughout western nations.
This diet is often characterised by an abundance of meat and dairy, which may be the very reason for the climbing life expectancy in the eastern society.
Key takeaway(s) from this research: Cholesterol is a critical component of the walls of blood vessels, providing structure integrity and resilience.
In the 1960s, the consumption of meat and dairy in Japan, some of the biggest sources of cholesterol, was virtually zero.
A study in the UK, found that vegetarians (another population with virtually zero meat and dairy consumption) were extremely prone to strokes, or cerebrovascular disease.
By 2013, the annual meat consumption by the Japanese population was up to 52kg per person (about half that of the average American). This change in diet, to one that was much more abundant in cholesterol, resulted in the tumbling of cerebrovascular mortality and therefore rising life expectancy.
Have Japan found the perfect balance of meat and dairy?
Why has Japan become the world’s most long-lived country: insights from a food and nutrition perspective - https://www.nature.com/articles/s41430-020-0677-5