Twenty year study finds calorie restriction works in primates
Calorie restriction has significantly extended the life span of many animal species such as yeast, roundworms and rodents, but whether it could do the same for Primates, a group that includes monkeys and humans, had long been an unanswered question. In a report published in the July 10, 2009 issue of Science, Professor Richard Weindruch and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital reveal that calorie restriction is indeed successful at improving survival and delaying disease in rhesus macaques, whose average life span is 27 years. "We have been able to show that caloric restriction can slow the aging process in a primate species," Dr Weindruch announced.
The study divided 76 macaques aged 7 to 14 to receive diets that allowed them to consume as much food as they wanted, or diets which contained 30 percent fewer calories than the unrestricted diets. Thirty of the animals began the diets in 1989 and 46 in 1994.
As of this year, 80 percent of the animals given restricted diets are alive, compared to half of the unrestricted animals. Cancer and cardiovascular disease incidence is over 50 percent lower in the calorie restricted animals, and impaired glucose regulation has not been observed. "So far, we've seen the complete prevention of diabetes," Dr Weindruch stated.
Additionally, brain volume, motor control, working memory and problem solving abilities appear to be better maintained in the restricted monkeys. "It seems to preserve the volume of the brain in some regions," noted Sterling Johnson, who is a neuroscientist in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. "It's not a global effect, but the findings are helping us understand if this dietary treatment is having any effect on the loss of neurons in aging.
"Both motor speed and mental speed slow down with aging," Dr Johnson explained. "Those are the areas which we found to be better preserved. We can't yet make the claim that a difference in diet is associated with functional change because those studies are still ongoing. What we know so far is that there are regional differences in brain mass that appear to be related to diet."
"The atrophy or loss of brain mass known to occur with aging is significantly attenuated in several regions of the brain," Dr Weindruch added. "That's a completely new observation."
Although studies of humans who practice calorie restriction have found improvements in numerous measures of health, only an impractically long study would be able to show if the technique can actually extend human life span. However, the current primate study's results are the best indicator to date that calorie restriction might be one means of allowing humans to live longer in better health.
How long we live may not be determined by what we eat so much as how much we eat. Of all the potential antiaging approaches, none have so far shown the promise of caloric restriction. Over the past 75 years, many studies have shown that caloric restriction extends life span in a wide variety of species, from invertebrates to rodents, to mammals.
People imagine that caloric restriction is associated with near-starvation and constant hunger, or malnutrition due to inadequate intake of dietary nutrients. In fact, caloric restriction, if undertaken correctly, is a healthy lifestyle that is accompanied by weight loss, only occasional hunger, optimal nutrition, and other health benefits. To stress the importance of a healthy lifestyle, caloric restriction will henceforth be referred to as "caloric restriction with optimal nutrition" or CRON.
Data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging suggests that long-lived humans exhibit some of the same physiological and biochemical changes that accompany caloric restriction in animals. Survival rates are highest in those with low body temperatures and low levels of circulating insulin (Roth GS et al 2002). In addition, levels of serum dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a presumed longevity marker (Kalimi M et al 1999), are also higher in long-lived individuals (Roth GS et al 2002). In primates undergoing CRON, DHEA levels are also conserved (Lane MA et al 1997).
Before going on a CRON program, the Life Extension Foundation recommends that you obtain a blood chemistry profile. This will allow you to monitor your progress through subsequent blood tests. During CRON, fasting blood glucose and insulin levels should fall, as should insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) levels. HDL should rise. Blood pressure, which can be measured at most pharmacies without charge, should fall. For more information on blood testing, call 1-800-544-4440. If you intend to practice severe caloric restriction (30 percent to 40 percent), we recommend that you do so under the care of a knowledgeable physician.
The Life Extension Foundation suggests that you reduce calories by eating plenty of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, soluble fiber, and lean protein.
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