Low Calorie Diets Extend Lifespan

A recently concluded 20-year study of Rhesus monkeys holds the promise that dramatically restricting calories —in this case a 30 percent cut—may add years to your life. The monkeys showed fewer signs and diseases of aging, lived longer than monkeys who ate more, and even looked better.

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The findings provide support for a scientific movement, known commonly as Calorie Restriction or CR, which has long posited that a consistent ultra-low calorie diet may prolong life in humans. The theory has been around at least since the 1930s, and has spawned The Calorie Restriction Society, whose members believe that this daily regimen is “the only proven life-extension method known to modern science.”

Previous evidence about the link between eating less and living longer was based on studies of more primitive creatures like worms, flies, yeast, fish and rodents. The new study at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, is the first to include large mammals. In addition to living longer, the dieting monkeys showed less cancerous tumors, heart disease, diabetes, and brain shrinkage. Lead researcher, Rick Colman, Ph.D., an associate scientist at the Center, put it simply: “Monkeys in the calorie restricted group are more likely to live healthier, longer.”

Since calorie restriction, by its nature, involves the less intake of nutrients, food choices become critical. Fruits, vegetables, grains and lean protein tend to be favored over sugars or high carbohydrate items. On average, Americans consume between 2,000 and 3,000 calories a day; someone practicing calorie restriction would need to get this down to 1,500 to 2,000 daily calories.

Obviously, no one is yet sure if the findings can be generalized to human beings, and the research will go on. But experts extrapolate from the monkey study that if it works, people in their 30s who start the process could extend their lives by 8 to 10 years. Which raises the question: If you could prolong your life, but the price would be eating 30 percent fewer calories every single day, would it be worth it?