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Why your diet is more important than drugs for metabolic health

What you eat has a significant role in keeping away lifestyle conditions like diabetes, stroke, and heart disease

You really are what you eat
You really are what you eat (Unsplash)

We all have that friend or family member who will say, "Of course I can eat that sweet. I just need to take my diabetes medicine immediately." 

It turns out, however, that prescription pills are simply not the same as consuming a balanced, nutritious diet when it comes to metabolic health. According to a new study that compares the impact of diet versus drugs on the inner workings of our cells, one thing is clear: nutrition has a more substantial effect on overall wellbeing. Moreover, the study, conducted by the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre and published in Cell Metabolism, suggests that our diet's makeup plays a more significant role in keeping away lifestyle conditions like diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. 

Also read: Can postbiotics make your gut even healthier?

Currently, at a pre-clinical stage, the research showed nutrition (including overall calories and macronutrient balance) had a greater impact on ageing and metabolic health than three drugs commonly used to treat diabetes and slow down ageing. According to Professor Stephen Simpson, a senior author and academic director of the Charles Perkins Centre, drugs can target the same biochemical pathways as nutrients.  However, diet continues to be powerful medicine, he adds. "Presently, drugs are administered without consideration of whether and how they might interact with our diet composition -- even when these drugs are designed to act in the same way and on the same nutrient-signalling pathways as diet," said Professor Simpson.

When researchers investigated whether drugs or diet were more potent in remodelling nutrient-sensing and other metabolic pathways and whether medications and diet interacted in ways that made them more or less effective, they discovered that dietary composition had a far more powerful effect than drugs, which largely dampened responses to diet rather than reshaped them. 

The study, conducted on mice, involved 40 different treatments, each with varying levels of protein, fat and carbohydrate balance, calories and drug content. Also, the impact of three anti-ageing drugs on the liver--an essential aspect of metabolism regulation-- was examined.

Researchers discovered that calorie intake and macronutrient balance appeared to have a considerable impact on the liver. The study pointed out that protein, in particular, seemed to have a powerful effect on metabolic pathways and cell functioning. On the other hand, the drugs mainly acted to dampen the cell's metabolic response to diet, rather than fundamentally reshaping them, said the study, which was conducted on mice. 

Also read: How to spot and treat low sugar levels

Lead author Professor David Le Couteur of the Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health added that while we all know what we eat influences our health, this study showed that nutrition could also dramatically influence many processes operating in our cells. "This gives us insights into how diet impacts health and ageing," he said.  



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