Live Long and Master Aging podcast



Another 50 years: Eat protective foods

Peter Allison & Peter Bowes


What can be done to improve our memories as we grow older? The latest longevity science suggests help could be on the way. There’s also a new drug that appears to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, and researchers highlight what they believe to an optimum diet for longevity.

Peter Allison and Peter Bowes – school friends in North East England 50 years ago – return with another conversation about the latest science that could help us achieve a longer healthspan.

Topics covered in this conversation include

  • The importance of memory and concerns about forgetfulness as people age.
  • A study published in the European Heart Journal highlights the benefits of a healthy diet, particularly one that includes fruits, nuts, legumes, fish, and dairy.
  • The study suggests that focusing on consuming protective foods rather than avoiding damaging foods may lead to better health outcomes.
  • Peter and Peter discuss their own experiences with diet and how it has changed over time.
  • A study in monkeys that demonstrates the cognitive benefits of the protein klotho, which is associated with lower levels in people with dementia.
  • The study shows promising results in improving cognitive abilities in the monkeys, but further research in humans is needed.
  • Another study highlights a new drug that shows potential in treating Alzheimer’s disease by reducing brain plaque.
  • The drug has shown to slow cognitive decline by one-third in human studies, but it also has potential side effects.
  • The discussion touches on the financial aspects of research in dementia and Alzheimer’s, as there is a growing need for effective treatments.
  • The importance of collaboration and social interaction for mental health and cognitive abilities is emphasized, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Earlier conversations between Peter A. and Peter B.

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TRANSCRIPT – This conversation was recorded on July 20, 2023 and transcribed using Sonix AI. Please check against audio recording for absolute accuracy.

Peter Allison: I only put my keys in one of three places around the house. My keys and my wallet. And if I’m going to the office, my swipe card, I always just put things in a small number of places. So that’s how I remember.

Peter Bowes: How is your memory? Do you find yourself forgetting things as you grow older? Does it matter? And if it does, is there anything we can do about it? Hello again, I’m Peter Bowes. This is the Live Long and Master Aging podcast and with me again is Peter Allison. We’ve known each other since we went to school together in the 1970s and now we’re kind of working together again, contemplating the future, trying to figure out the science and the best way to maximize our healthspan. Hello again, Peter.

Peter Allison: Hello. Well, memory now. So I’m so you know, I have a science background and I remember when I was a grad student, I could read a scientific paper and then I could go to write about it about two and sometimes two years later. And I could remember the first author, the title, The Journal. And probably guesstimate the pages to within 50 pages. So I could then just go and yeah, I read that once, two and a half years ago. I can go back and find it in the days when we had paper copies, of course. And oh, now I could read a paper in the morning and I could forget I’ve read it. Well I wouldn’t forget I’ve read it, but I would need to go back to it in the afternoon. If I think if there was one thing about aging that concerns me more than anything else, it’s it’s that it’s losing memory that concerns me.

Peter Bowes: Yeah, I’m with you. And what’s interesting to me, this is our third conversation in a matter of a few weeks. And we started certainly in the first episode just reminiscing, talking about our school days. And it struck me how easy it was to do that. And some of the fine detail that I still remember quite literally 50 years ago, 1973, is when we started at the same school together. How it’s easy to remember those details and what we got up to and the, you know, the excitement of going to school and some of the problems that we might have had during that time compared with just remembering what I did last week or even yesterday, as you imply.

Peter Allison: Yeah, yeah. It’s, you know, I mean, I’ve gone bald, so shave my head because I’ve got male pattern baldness, so I’ve shaved my head. I don’t really care about that. Yeah, one of my teeth snapped off other a year or so ago. Don’t really care about that. None of that bothers me. It’s. It’s the memory. It’s just. And I guess this question about whether or not this is normal or whether or not this is the sign of something darker because, you know, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got I have relatives who’ve got dementia and I’ve watched the progression of that. I guess a lot of people have, haven’t we, in this day and age? We as our our older relatives live longer. So we’re watching so we’re watching the the impact of dementia, Alzheimer’s as things progress.

Peter Bowes: Yeah, I think it is our heightened awareness of certainly Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is in the news a lot. There is actually some positive news and we’ll get on to that in a few moments. But it is you’re absolutely right. It’s seeing what happens to relatives, to friends of our generation. Even early onset Alzheimer’s is is a big issue. And just that fear that it’s going to happen to us and. Well, I suppose let’s look on the positive side. There is a certain amount that we can do. And just general physical fitness is is a big part of perhaps maybe not preventing Alzheimer’s. There is no cure, sadly, as we know it yet for something like Alzheimer’s. But I think we know that being a generally a good physical condition is a good way to just perhaps delay it a few years.

Peter Allison: Yeah. And I and I guess isn’t isn’t the height isn’t that the high irony that the the most the cheapest and the most cost effective remedy is having is exercise and yet it’s the one that’s the it’s the, it’s the, it’s the high irony. It’s the cheapest and yet it’s this requires this discipline, this lifestyle choices that and it’s just so difficult to implement and on a long term basis isn’t that ironic, right?

Peter Bowes: It’s a huge irony. And the thing is, once you get into and I know you have and I have, once you get into that routine of of exercise, the benefits that you can feel quite quickly, certainly speaking personally is enough to keep me going at it. It’s enough to encourage me. But I know for a lot of people it’s just making that that first step and the procrastination that goes into starting exercise can be difficult. But I want to talk, first of all, Peter, about the paper that actually you sent to me a few days ago. You spotted this, and this is in the European Heart Journal, Diet, cardiovascular disease and Mortality in 80 countries. The goal, they said, was to develop what they called a healthy diet score for different countries. This is a study based on almost 150,000 people from 21 countries. Just, Peter, tell me a little bit more about this. And when we get on to the conclusions, which to me were quite striking.

Peter Allison: Well, yes, I mean, because the diet that they’re encouraging people to take, it’s just a I guess it’s no stranger to the sorts of diets that we’ve all been encouraged to to adopt before. And as we fruit nuts, legumes, fish and dairy, I mean, I guess dairy to some extent, people maybe there’s a sort of like differing messages that come across about about dairy. So there are these five things and this is massive epidemiological study, the focus of the paper. And I guess the difference is in between this study and some of the other studies that I’ve come across is this study is focused on the protective elements, the notionally protective elements of the diet rather than the damaging elements of the diet. And one of the points that the lead author has made is that perhaps some of the the conclusions from those papers which have been talking about the damaging effects of diet were really because it wasn’t so much that people were eating too much of a damaging thing is that they weren’t eating enough of the protective thing. So that was a it was a very interesting cast to the story. And they and as a result of that, the main point was, is you’ve got to try and eat these protective foods. And if you do that, then eating a minimum amount, you know, like a sort of like a modest and a modest amount of some of the things like meat isn’t such a big deal.

Peter Bowes: And I say the conclusions were surprising because when I read the conclusion, I felt, well, didn’t we know this already? And you kind of implied that as well, that if we eat this kind of diet with with legumes, the kind of Mediterranean diet, maybe some full fat dairy, that the results are optimized in terms of our potential healthspan and indeed lifespan. And the one thing that they highlighted, of course, was that those richer nations tended to have better results. So those countries with poorer diets had less good outcomes.

Peter Allison: Yeah, and that was because obviously if you’re in the poorer countries, people can’t afford. I’d have less access to these foods which have the which have which have the protective value. And I guess, you know, and it’s again, coming back to it is this notion of just a balanced diet and nothing in excess would be perhaps the sorts of things that. You know, perhaps we might have been our grandmothers might have told us about 50 years ago, perhaps, you know that this. Anyway, I’m in no way decrying the work, of course, when I say that, because having a good scientific study, you don’t just do things that your grandmother says, right? Right, right. Yeah. Yeah. But, you know, so. Yeah, but I mean, this notion of things in moderation, it just seems that just resonates, doesn’t it? That just seems like a really good conclusion.

Peter Bowes: Moderation is the phrase. The word that I use over and over again is perhaps one of the more boring words that you can use in terms of longevity science, because people think, Oh, moderation, that’s not going to be much fun. But time and time again, supported by the science, as you say, that’s why it is indeed good to have these large data studies backing up what we what we think we know. But moderation in diet and yes, a little bit of meat, if that’s what you like a little bit of of dairy. But the bulk of your diet being this kind of Mediterranean diet, lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes for the bulk of your protein does time and time again show to be the best kind of combination that you can have? And I don’t know about you, but as I look at longevity science and almost always and I’ve said this before, the final sentence is more studies are required. But I kind of personally read between the lines. add one study to the previous study that I’ve seen on a similar subject and kind of make up my own mind, unless it’s something obviously very extreme. But if it’s something as simple as a moderate diet, I tend to think, well, I’m going to give that a go. That’s that’s the direction that I’m going to go in because of the weight of the body of the science.

Peter Allison: I mean, just pausing, just to look back 50, 60 years, can you going back into the 1960s and 1970s, how did you can you remember how your diet at home changed during the 1960s to the 1970s? Because I can remember subtle things that big things that my diet how my diet changed.

Peter Bowes: Yeah, Well, I can remember certainly the 1970s, I was I was born in 62. You were born in 61. 61, correct? Yeah. So I don’t remember much about the 60s, but certainly the 70s, that was the age of margarine, wasn’t it? I think around about that time margarine started to replace butter because we thought we can’t have all of these, you know, ultra high fat foods as part of our diet. And the science then seemed to suggest that margarine was the way to go. Now, of course, now half a century on, we look at margarine through a very different light. And I know as a as a kid we had lots of my mum was a great cook and she made beautiful baked goods and gradually margarine replaced the butter. But I think as we understand it now, that probably wasn’t a positive move.

Peter Allison: Well, I suppose I was thinking about meat consumption. So in the 1960s my mother worked in the school. She was the administrator of the school. My, my father was a was worked in a the local authorities as a bricklayer. And I. I. So the Sunday roast for my parents was a chicken and I don’t And then gradually towards around about the early 70s it included pork and beef was something that was just too expensive. And I was just so I just think going back from that time is just it was almost it was difficult to eat too much meat because it was more expensive. And then everything just became so cheap. So you could afford to buy any time you want, almost. And I I’ve just sort of pause and was thinking about that and the way that epidemiological research and different different dietary studies have have discussed the, you know the impact of eating too much meat because again, I’m personal about it. You know, I love bacon. I love a bacon sandwich. But, you know, if I eat bacon, I my knees start to hurt a little bit and I don’t feel terribly good afterwards. So even though I like I’ve just not because of dietary I’ve just decided I just don’t think it’s right for me anymore.

Peter Bowes: yeah, that’s really interesting because, I mean, I think I probably had a very similar diet as it applied to meat in those, you know, teenagers especially and chicken red meat beef on a Sunday Sunday dinner was generally the staple diet. I do remember, though, never being a particularly huge fan of eating meat, especially red meat. I don’t mind chicken so much, but I was never a huge fan of it. And as I’ve grown older, I’ve kind of acknowledged that more. And it’s not part of my diet anymore a/ because I don’t particularly enjoy it. But b/ because I, I think I understand that it’s probably not the best diet for me and that I should stick to vegetables and fruits and, and those, you know, the legumes and the beans and peas for my protein.

Peter Allison: It’s just about the importance of finding what’s right for the individual, isn’t it? And listening to what your body is saying.

Peter Bowes: Well, listening to what your body says and doing what you and I do, and not everyone is in a position to do this, to to do deep dives into science. But I certainly follow the science. And as I say, things may not be proven to to be an absolute fact in terms of science and the scientific method. But I think we can see the at least I feel as if I can see the direction that that diet science is going in.

Peter Bowes: You’re listening to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. Peter Allison is with me and we’re talking about this week’s new Longevity Science. Let’s move on to memory, Peter, and the first of a kind of two related studies. One is a study that is published in Nature Anti-Aging protein injection boosts monkeys memories. And this is billed as the first primate study to show cognitive benefits of the protein klotho, which could be a step forward, it says, towards clinical applications, in other words, a step forwards to its use in human beings. And we’re not there yet, but the results show in monkeys quite a lot of promise.

Peter Allison: Yeah, it is. And so what they do is that I mean, the test of cognitive ability for these monkeys was that they hide some food somewhere and then they go to see how successful the monkeys are going to be able to find the food. And in their control, in the control study, the monkeys were finding the food at 45% of the time. And then when they had this injection of klotho, they were finding it 60% of the time. So it was making them it was more effective. And and and what was interesting is that the authors were saying they’re not quite sure why this is the case. And it was they were getting low doses. They they’ve noticed that in people who’ve got dementia as they get older, that they have lower levels of this klotho present in their body. So low levels of of klotho are associated with cognitive decline. So they give the injections and it seems to help it, it seems to slow the decline by a third, but they’re not quite sure of the mechanism. So it’s so yeah, it’s really, really quite exciting, isn’t it?

Peter Bowes: It is. And I think it’s exciting because the study was done in monkeys, which obviously a very close relation to, to human beings as opposed to to fruit flies or, or mice in a laboratory. Just and a little aside, Peter, I was particularly interested in the methodology in terms of what they did with these monkeys, and these were rhesus monkeys. And just going back to my post school days, pre journalism days, I studied biology at college and was for a while destined for a career in science. And I worked for a while for the Medical Research Council in London, and I was working with a group looking at dementia and and schizophrenia and some of the diseases of old age. And my role in this research was to train, in my case, marmoset monkeys, little tiny little monkeys that could sit in your hand to do exactly this kind of thing, to distinguish between two objects. And the reward was a little piece of banana in a well that they could reach out and get into. And this study obviously was slightly different. It was looking at neurotransmitters, short term memory, long term memory, but it just sort of rekindled a few memories for me in terms of that that time, a very rewarding time working with these little animals, that it was a very short acting drug that we used, but it’s significantly affected their in the case of these experiments, their short term memory. And so going back to this study again, I think it is it is interesting. And again, let’s stress, we don’t know the implications for this in human beings, but the fact that they’re getting these quite striking results in in monkeys is is fascinating.

Peter Allison: Yeah. And I guess so I’m 62 in October. So hopefully maybe by the time that we are in our 80s we’ll be starting to worry about these things. Hopefully there’s some hope for us yet. When I was younger I was very much a destination driven individual is I would have a destination, a target for where I was going to go and the journey was something to be ignored. As you focus on the on the destination. And I think at the time, I think you I lost out on opportunities and experiences by focusing on the on the destination rather than the journey. And I look again and I just pausing, you know, just as we’re speaking talking about dementia and things is at the moment I’m in pretty good health. And I think the great opportunity there is to say I’m in pretty good health now and everything’s I should really seize the day and. Not let concern for things like that because I can’t there’s no point having a concern for things that I can’t have any impact on. So I don’t want to lose the quality of what I got by dwelling too much upon what might happen in 15 years time or whatever.

Peter Bowes: Yeah, I’m totally with you. And of course, by enjoying the present day and enjoying your good health, you are actually probably impacting your potential for getting some of these diseases without actually thinking about it too deeply. In other words, just exploiting the good health that you have now, I think could be beneficial in the future. The third study I just wanted to mention has had a lot of news coverage in the past few days is a new drug which is being hailed as a potential turning point in Alzheimer’s treatment. This isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, but it shows significant effects in terms of the cognitive decline. And this is essentially a drug that gets rid of some of that that plaque that clogs up the brain, putting it very simplistically, which is one of the root causes of the decline that we see in people with Alzheimer’s. And again, the studies here do involve human beings. So it’s very relevant to all of us. And it is showing that there are some potential side effects and people need brain scans as they’re using this drug. But the studies so far show quite a lot of promising results.

Peter Allison: Yeah. I mean, I think I was fascinated because how first of all, I was wanting to know how they measured the decline of people. And so it turns out that there is a 144 point score on dementia related decline. And they looked at the decline of people in the control group and they compared it with the decline of people who were on these drugs over a 75 week period. And it was a score of I think the people in the control group had a decline of nine points and the people taking the drugs had a score or they lost six on this on this declining scale. So there was it slowed the rate of decline by about a third.

Peter Bowes: Yeah.

Peter Allison: Which is pretty good. I mean. But the side effects could be quite again. The side effects impacted a third of the people. So the third seems to be the magic number here. So a third of the people who were on this treatment had some side effects and some of them were were quite serious. So but I guess, you know, if you’ve. I’ve got. Dementia, then you need to make those hard choices, I suppose.

Peter Bowes: Yeah. It is interesting. At the British, the NHS, the National Health Service in the UK is considering this drug for for potential use. Just to say that this is a study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA. There’s a lot more detail in that and I’ll put the link to it in the show notes for this episode. But I think in terms of measuring its effect, I think essentially what they looked at was the increased ability of people to carry out everyday tasks and to keep on living as normal a life as possible, which I guess when you have what is still an incurable condition is what you would want.

Peter Allison: Yeah. Yeah. It is greater time to spend with family and doing the sort of creative, enriching things that you enjoy and and delight in.

Peter Bowes: Yeah. And that’s essentially what, what it’s what it’s all about. This seems, Peter, to have been this explosion in research which looking at dementia and the possible ways to at least slow down the progress of the disease, it seems. I mean, thankfully there are many areas of longevity research that could do with a huge injection of of cash. But there does seem in the scientific community to be a willingness and it seems the funds to do this kind of research.

Peter Allison: Well, I guess that there is a huge body of people who will be suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. And so there is an awful lot of, you know, it’s money to be made in in in serving, you know, in serving this great need. And so that’s that’s the driver for it. And I’m not being I’m not making any negative comment about the money, really. But, you know that these studies are tremendously expensive. So there has to be a has to be a driver to get people to actually do to do to put all of this money out in the first place. Because so many of a lot of these drugs which are tested and developed, not all of them make it to market. I mean, and it’s an expensive process.

Peter Bowes: You have probably a better perspective than I do in terms of the money behind scientific research and what drives studies like this and that there has to be a positive financial outcome as well. Is this something you found in in your research?

Peter Allison: So I think in my work, which is a very, very different field, so I was a geologist and I think that when you’re doing my research, I would look at research and I would find some research that I thought, well, I can get some industrial money for this. And then I could think of some research, which I would think of what that looks like. It’s going to be really fun and I’m going to be really, really interesting, but I’m not really going to get any money for that. I don’t think so. I would have to have a sort of like a balanced portfolio of work and. Just to make sure because, you know, you always have to have your annual appraisal and you’ve got to be able to go up and say what you’ve done. Um, and that’s, you know, I’m just a really good way forward. I mean, that’s just good management. So I’m not complaining about that at all. I just think it was a really good way to have things. And I also think that having this, you know, this expectation for me working in a university and expectation that you have to go out and get money. When I first started, I found it. I found it very difficult. But then after I, I just found it was it drives creativity because you start collaborating with people that maybe you wouldn’t have collaborated on and you start coming across ideas that maybe you wouldn’t have had before. I really like that. Um, and I can really see and I can really sort of like sympathize with it because if you, if you have a goal and a drive, if something’s driving you along, it just forces you to be more creative and more, you know. And it’s that creativity when people suddenly start having ideas. I mean, I don’t one of the things I really loved was talking with scientists from different disciplines when I was collaborating with people and I used to think of it, it was a little bit like a game of battleships where you were trying to talk to each other and the conversations would be you’d be like firing off and the other person would be not quite understanding because they’d come from a different discipline. And then gradually the sort of like the conversations would coalesce and then you’d be hitting on a target as you suddenly you, you have these several conversations and then you target, you realize you’re understanding each other and then everything just gets to be really creative.

Peter Bowes: That’s interesting to me, and especially in terms of the collaboration that you mentioned and just relating it to our conversations that we’ve been having over the last few weeks, I find it hugely encouraging and beneficial just to have conversations with someone who is like minded and obviously you’re kind of chasing the same kind of goal to me, and I think that is relatable to our professional lives where we collaborate with people. And yes, we might be collaborating with an organization that’s providing funds for the research or whatever the project is, and you’re just thinking really post-COVID how it is actually nice to be getting back. I know we’re talking remotely here, but how it is actually nice in other areas of our lives to be able to face to face collaborate with people.

Peter Allison: Well, I think it is. And I think there’s another I think there’s a sort of like a parallel with exercise there, isn’t there? Because when we go, we go to the gym and we try to do something and we make our muscles hurt and we know that when they’ve hurt hurting a little bit, that’s good because that’s when they starting to do things and get a bit stronger. And I think that when we go out and we meet people and we collaborate people and we have to, we’ve got to find ways of getting on and collaborating and things. And I think that’s sort of like that’s testing our minds a bit, isn’t it? It’s testing our social skills and it’s making sure that we can interact with other people. And so I think that’s good. That’s, that’s an exercise of our social, of our of our social practice, of our sociability. And I think that’s that’s a good thing. And I can and I think during Covid that must have massively been impacted. And it’s just lovely to go out and start meeting people again. I mean, you go into it all the time with your interviews through work. For me, I go on, I guess recreationally. I go on dive boats. I often meet people I don’t know before, and that’s just lovely, just chatting away to people from different backgrounds, you know? And it might be on a boat for a week, so everyone knows that you have to try and get on. So it’s just good practice. And I I’m sure there must be work that’s been done on that and the impact that that has on our healthspan as regards our mental abilities. But I’m sure that’s positive.

Peter Bowes: Yeah, I agree with you. Just one final thought and really just going back to where we started, Peter, in terms of memory, memory loss, how things change as we get older. Do you have any tricks? You’ve talked about tricks before in terms of motivational tricks to get you to do things? Do you have any tricks or lifestyle hacks that that helps with your memory and helps you remember where you put the car keys?

Peter Allison: Oh, well, okay. This is a conversation that my you should probably have with my wife. So I would say that so for little things like that, I only put my keys in one of three places around the house, my keys and my wallet. And if I’m going to the office. My swipe card. They’re only in one of three places. They don’t go anywhere else. I always just put things in a small number of places. So that’s how I remember. My wife, on the other hand, puts things down all over the place, and he’s always forgetting things. So, you know, we are.

Peter Bowes: Yeah. No, it’s the same with my partner as well. We have constant conversations where we always think the other one is is worse in this respect in terms of losing things. But. But I’m like you. I put my keys when I. I’ve even got a drawer in my office that says car keys, you know, and that anal about it. But it works. And I generally know where they are. On that note, Peter, always good to talk to you. I think you’re off on a diving trip fairly soon, aren’t you?

Peter Allison: I am indeed. And I shall be away for I shall be away for a while. And I’ll show you some pictures when I get back.

Peter Bowes: I look forward to that. Have a great time, Peter. We’ll talk soon.

Peter Allison: Okay. Look forward to it.

The Live Long and Master Aging (LLAMA) podcast, a HealthSpan Media LLC production, shares ideas but does not offer medical advice. If you have health concerns of any kind, or you are considering adopting a new diet or exercise regime, you should consult your doctor.

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