Nutrition, Cancer, and Aging


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ABSTRACT: The parallel increase in cancer risk with advancing age is well recognized, and several pathophysiological mechanisms common to both conditions have been proposed to explain this interrelationship. The importance of nutrition, both in delaying the aging process and in protecting against cancer is also well recognized, and it is therefore of interest to compare the relative impact several of the more widely studied dietary manipulations may have on each of these conditions.

For example, caloric restriction, which putatively reduces oxidative stress and effectively increases life span in animals also seems to reduce the incidence of many cancers, possibly due to diminished mitogenesis. Likewise, oxidative damage to DNA appears to be common to both processes but may be more important in the mitochondria with respect to aging and in the nucleus in relation to cancer. Inadequate dietary folate and impaired DNA methylation status are closely associated with increased cancer risk, and recently defective somatic cell methylation and accumulated genetic instability have been proposed as key mechanisms contributing to senescence.

Several other well-established anticancer dietary strategies, which include increased fiber intake and the consumption of more fruits and vegetables, have not been studied extensively in relation to aging, although many of the phytochemicals considered important as chemopreventive agents for cancer may well contribute to delaying the aging process.

Although not directly related to nutrition, but nevertheless highly relevant, is the question of physical activity, which has been strongly linked to a reduction in risk of some cancers. Although less is known with respect to exercise and biological markers of aging, physical activity does appear to retard the age-related decline in the muscle strength and in the bone density.