Yet Another Article Shows That Calorie-Restricted Diets Increase Life Span. Too Bad Nobody Ever Will Follow the Program!

When I was reviewing the Health and Science section of the July 31, 2009 issue of The Week for Monday's article about cats purring, another...


When I was reviewing the Health and Science section of the July 31, 2009 issue of The Week for Monday’s article about cats purring, another blurb caught my eye. It’s totally off topic, but I can’t resist commenting. I’ll return to juicy veterinary topics tomorrow.

The content in the short article has been published thousands (or perhaps hundreds of thousands) of times over the last ten years. It keeps being repackaged as a new story and sold to the public as a revolutionary discovery–even though it is old, old news. I guess the editors believe that the human quest to live forever will make us forget that this story was published in one form or another last year, and the year before, and the year before, and . . .

Living longer by going hungry

If we eat a lot less, will we live longer? It works for monkeys, says The New York Times. After studying a group of rhesus monkeys for 20 years, scientists found that those that were fed one-third less food aged much more slowly than their peers, which were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. The calorie-restricted monkeys also showed less deterioration of muscle and brain matter, conditions that typically come with aging, and appeared to be on course to live up to 20 percent longer than the norm. For humans, that might mean extending life spans by seven to 15 years. “We were frankly blown away by these findings,” says lead research Richard Weindruch, of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Dr. Weindruch, were you set up to look silly in that quote? Surely a researcher in your field is aware of the dozens of studies and countless (dare I say mercilessly incessant stream of) news articles documenting this completely unsurprising fact in basically every species imaginable–except humans (more on that soon). You could not plausibly have been “blown away” by this new set of results.

The article continues . . .

The results dovetail with other research indicating that caloric restriction can extend the lives of mice, dogs, yeast, fruit flies, and worms.

You don’t say?

I remember a decade or so ago when the first study showed that calorie restriction increased life span in rodents. I realized that I might be able extend my life span significantly, if only someone would lock me in a cage and starve me.

No study of this matter has been performed in humans, because almost nobody willingly starves him- or herself. In fact, people who voluntarily refuse to eat are considered to suffer from pathology: anorexia nervosa.

The hope of these types of studies is that chronic starvation activates genes that extend life span. Ideally, some day we will be able to activate these genes without having to go hungry. Then we can all live to be 130, and collect Social Security for half of our lives. (My apologies to the youthful Americans who will be stuck paying for this. One day you also will have the opportunity to stick it to a younger generation.)

Meanwhile, I’m going to start my day with an omelette.

Photo: say goodbye to longevity! By Mattia Luigi Nappi.

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