Low calorie diet may slow aging

A nutritious and low calorie diet blunts aging and significantly delays the onset of such age-related disorders as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and brain atrophy, revealed by researchers.

A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital reported the study details in the journal Science.

“We have been able to show that caloric restriction can slow the aging process in a primate species,” says Richard Weindruch, a professor of medicine in the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health who leads the National Institute on Aging-funded study.

“We observed that caloric restriction reduced the risk of developing an age-related disease by a factor of three and increased survival.”

During the 20-year course of the study, half of the animals permitted to eat freely have survived, while 80 percent of the monkeys given the same diet, but with 30 percent fewer calories, are still alive.

Begun in 1989 with a cohort of 30 monkeys to chart the health effects of the reduced-calorie diet, the study expanded in 1994 with the addition of 46 more rhesus macaques. All of the animals in the study were enrolled as adults at ages ranging from 7 to 14 years. Today, 33 animals remain in the study. Of those, 13 are given free rein at the dinner table, and 20 are on a calorie-restricted diet. Rhesus macaques have an average life span of about 27 years in captivity. The oldest animal currently in the study is 29 years.

The new report details the relationship between diet and aging, according to Weindruch and lead study author Ricki Colman, by focusing on the “bottom-line indicators of aging: the occurrence of age-associated disease and death.”

The Wisconsin rhesus macaque study, however, is likely to provide the most detailed insight into the phenomenon and its potential application to human health as it has tracked in greatest detail the diets and life histories of an animal that closely resembles humans. Because people are much longer lived than rhesus monkeys, and no similar comprehensive study with human subjects is under way, conclusive evidence of the effects of the diet on human lifespan and disease may never be known.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

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