Can 7-a-day save your life?

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On the 1st of April I heard over my morning cup of coffee that new research suggests that the staple 5-a-day which has been ingrained into our idea of health since a young age may not be enough. Research carried out at University College London has presented that in order to live longer we should be eating 7 or more portions of fruit and vegetables every day. It seems that more and more frequently we are being told to change our diet or lifestyle to improve our lifespan, so let’s delve a little deeper than the morning news. In 2003 the UK government set up the 5-a-day guidelines for how many fruit and veg we should be eating each day which is also common in other European countries such as France and Germany. This was implicated due to large scale analysis of the benefits of fruit and veg on health. These types of studies have linked low consumption of fruit and veg to diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer. So eating your greens will help fend off potentially fatal conditions and allow us to live longer… the UCL study takes it one step further and looks at precisely how many portions you need a day to see the benefits.

A representative group of 65,226 UK residents were monitored over a 12 year study and the results were whizzed through some fancy statistical analysis producing some shocking results. Looking at three categories: all causes of death, cancer and heart disease and setting <1 portion of fruit and veg used as a baseline. It was shown that in the cohort people that ate 7 or more portions of fruit and veg on average a day were 25% less likely to die from cancer, 31% reduced risk of death of heart disease and a staggering 42% when looking at all causes of death. Although a lot of people struggle to eat the recommended amount of veggies every day, vegetables were shown to have more of a health benefit than fruit, so it seems to be worth chucking a few more leafy greens into your lunch or evening meal.

As longevity is a hot topic in many research areas as preventing disease and living longer is a huge issue in the scientific community. Keeping ourselves fit and healthy is a key part of improving our life span; even recovery time from surgery has been shown to be more dependent of fitness than health. But what else? How else can we live longer? The link between cognitive ability and life span has been observed in a number of studies. This research into ‘Cognitive Epidemiology’ suggests that children or young adults that are classed as more intelligent are more likely to live longer. It has been theorised that intelligence is an indicator of ‘systems integrity’, which suggests that since the neurological system that controls learning is working well then other bodily systems may also be more efficient. This however has not been proven. The correlation between intelligence and longevity is an interesting one and may be partly due to genetic factors but also it must be said that children who are classed as more intelligent may also be of a higher social class and have better access to education and health care in later life.

We all want to avoid disease and potentially live longer and so looking into aging and factors that can allow us remain healthier for longer effects all of us. Although the 7+ -a-day results were all over the news, how many people will head this advice and change their diet in order to reduce the risk of death? And will world governments change their advice that they give? Currently Australia has a 5+2 which is 5 vegetables and 2 fruit a day which is pretty much what this study shows to be most protective, however USA has a very vague ‘Fruit and Veggies—More Matters’.

With funding continuously being used to investigate what we can do throughout our lives that will allow us to live longer, more and more studies are likely to emerge that will link different factors to long term survival. On a day to day level it is almost impossible to adhere to all the guidelines that all these studies suggest so all I can say (to quote Jerry Springer) ‘Take care of yourself and each other’.

 

Julia Rose

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/karimian/57925008/

Oyebode O, Gordon-Dseagu V, Walker A, & Mindell JS (2014). Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data. Journal of epidemiology and community health PMID: 24687909

Lock K, Pomerleau J, Causer L, Altmann DR, & McKee M (2005). The global burden of disease attributable to low consumption of fruit and vegetables: implications for the global strategy on diet. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 83 (2), 100-8 PMID: 15744402

 

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