Looking for Better Cell Function? Choose Diet Over Drugs

FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites

Do your clients think they can eat a not-so-healthy diet and pop a pill to control their blood sugar and prevent complications? Perhaps they should think again.

A recent study evaluating the effect of diet versus drugs on our cell function indicates that diet provides a much stronger impact.

The study completed by the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre indicates the foods in our diets may be more powerful than medication in preventing chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. 

The research, done in mice, found that nutrition (such as overall calorie intake and macronutrient balance) had a larger effect on aging and metabolic health than three drugs often utilized to treat diabetes and prevent aging. This study was published in Cell Metabolism

This study builds on previous work by this team in mice showing the protective effect of diet on specific types of protein, fats, and carbohydrates against aging, obesity, heart disease, risk of metabolic conditions like diabetes and immune dysfunction. 

According to senior author and Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Center Professor Stephen Simpson, medications can also pinpoint the same biochemical pathways as nutrients. A large effort is underway to find drugs aimed at improving metabolic health and aging without the need for dietary changes. 

He notes that drugs are often prescribed without considering whether and how they might communicate with the composition of our diets, even when medications are developed to act in the same manner and on the same nutrient-signaling pathways as diet. 

Scientists worked to find out whether drugs or diet were useful in remodeling nutrient-sensing and other metabolic pathways, in addition to whether medications or food interacted in ways that made them more or less effective.

His research team found that the composition of diet had a more protective impact than drugs, which primarily dampened responses to diet instead of reshaping them, according to Professor Simpson. 

Because people share very similar nutrient-signaling pathways as mice, the research indicates that individuals would receive more value from dietary changes to improve metabolic health than taking the medications that were studied.

The study set up:

An intricate mouse study was designed that included 40 different treatments with varying amounts of carbohydrate, fat, and protein balance as well as calories and drug content. It was designed to look at the effect of three anti-aging drugs on the liver, which is an important organ in metabolism regulation. 

One major strength of the research was the use of geometric framework for diet created by Professor Stephen Simpson and David Raubenheimer. The matrix made it possible for the team to evaluate how interactions and mixtures of various nutrients impact health and disease instead of focusing on one particular nutrient, which can be a limiting factor in nutrition research.


The research showed that calorie consumption and the balance of carbohydrate, fat and protein had a strong effect on the liver and how we age.

Total calorie intake and protein showed powerful effects on metabolic pathways as well as core processes that affect the way our cells function.

The amount of protein consumed affects mitochondria activity, which impacts cells that make energy. A domino effect occurs as the amount of protein and calories consumed impact how closely cells translate their genes into different proteins necessary to assist proper cell function and new cell production. Both processes are associated with aging. 

By contrast, the medications primarily acted to dampen the metabolic response by the cells to diet, instead of reshaping them. The scientists also discovered more specific interactions between the biochemical impact of medications and diet composition. 

One anti-aging medication (resveratrol) had a larger impact on changes in cells caused by fat and carbohydrate in the diet, while a cancer and diabetes medication both blocked the impact of dietary protein on mitochondria, which produce energy. 

This creates a domino effect, as the number of calories and protein eaten impacts how precisely cells translate their genes into the various proteins needed to help cells function normally and to make new cells.

Despite the complexity of the study, lead author Professor David Le Couteur of the Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health said, “It shows how important it is to study many different diets at the same time, rather than just comparing a few different diets.”. He notes this approach is how to get an overview on the interactions between diet, health and our physiology. 

Clinicians can guide their clients to improve their diets with the following tips:

  1. Have them start with a food diary to get a good look at what they’re really eating.
  2. Discuss family history and risk factors for various diseases.
  3. Encourage adequate protein from plant sources such as soy, quinoa, and legumes.
  4. Focus on healthier fats from plant sources including avocado, corn, canola, and olive oils.
  5. Encourage high-fiber grains and cereals in managing blood sugar.
  6. Discuss the impact of overeating on risk of diabetes and other chronic illnesses.
  7. Avoid fad diets, which are often unbalanced in macronutrients.
  8. Reinforce the protective effects of food. We are what we eat!

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

Journal Reference:

David G. Le Couteur, Samantha M. Solon-Biet, Benjamin L. Parker, Tamara Pulpitel, Amanda E. Brandon, Nicholas J. Hunt, Jibran A. Wali, Rahul Gokarn, Alistair M. Senior, Gregory J. Cooney, David Raubenheimer, Victoria C. Cogger, David E. James, Stephen J. Simpson. Nutritional reprogramming of mouse liver proteome is dampened by metformin, resveratrol, and rapamycinCell Metabolism, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2021.10.016

Become a premium member today and get access to hundreds of articles and handouts plus our premium tools!

Upcoming Posts

UP NEXT IN Food and Health, Prevention
Meet Micronutrients: Zinc


Fun Fruit Trivia: Strawberries

UP NEXT IN Cooking
Summer Pretty Salad

New Products Available Now

Published on Categories cooking