All you can’t eat: Even a slight decrease in calories may lead to longer lifespans

Reported in the Economist:

MOST people would not object to living a few years longer than normal, as long as it meant they could live those years in good health. Sadly, the only proven way to extend the lifespan of an animal in this way is to reduce its calorie intake. Studies going back to the 1930s have shown that a considerable reduction in consumption (about 50%) can extend the lifespan of everything from dogs to nematode worms by between 30% and 70%. Although humans are neither dogs nor worms, a few people are willing to give the calorie-restricted diet a try in the hope that it might work for them, too. But not many—as the old joke has it, give up the things you enjoy and you may not live longer, but it will sure seem as if you did.

Now, though, work done by Marc Hellerstein and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that it may be possible to have, as it were, your cake and eat it too. Or, at least, to eat 95% of it. Their study, to be published in the American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism, suggests that significant gains in longevity might be made by a mere 5% reduction in calorie intake. The study was done on mice rather than people. But the ubiquity of previous calorie-restriction results suggests the same outcome might well occur in other species, possibly including humans. However, you would have to fast on alternate days.

Why caloric restriction extends the lifespan of any animal is unclear, but much of the smart money backs the idea that it slows down cell division by denying cells the resources they need to grow and proliferate. One consequence of that slow-down would be to stymie the development of cancerous tumours.

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