Good News: You Can Live Longer — Bad News: You've Got to Eat 30 Percent Less

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Researchers in Wisconsin and Maryland are reporting the results of a long running experiment in calorie restriction using monkeys. One set of monkeys got all the chow they wanted, while others were restricted to eating 30 percent fewer calories than they would have preferred. As the New York Times reports:

The results from one of the two studies, conducted by a team led by Ricki J. Colman and Richard Weindruch at the University of Wisconsin, were reported Thursday in Science. The researchers say that now, 20 years after the experiment began, the monkeys are showing many beneficial signs of caloric resistance, including significantly less diabetes, cancer, and heart and brain disease. "These data demonstrate that caloric restriction slows aging in a primate species," they conclude….

"It says much of the biology of caloric restriction is translatable into primates," he said, "which makes it more likely it would apply to humans."

In terms of deaths, 37 percent of the comparison monkeys have so far died in ways judged to be due to old age, compared with 13 percent of the dieting group.

Not everyone is convinced since theactual death rates were not significantly different:

Though a smaller number of dieting monkeys have died, the difference is not statistically significant, the Wisconsin team reports.

The Wisconsin researchers say that some of the monkey deaths were not related to age and can properly be excluded. Some monkeys died under the anesthesia given while taking blood samples. Some died from gastric bloat, a disease that can strike at any age, others from endometriosis. When the deaths judged not due to aging are excluded, the dieting monkeys lived significantly longer.

Some biologists think it is reasonable to exclude these deaths, but others do not. Steven Austad, an expert on aging at the University of Texas Health Science Center, said some deaths could have been due to caloric restriction, even if they did not seem to be related to aging. "Ultimately the results seem pretty inconclusive at this point," Dr. Austad said. "I don't know why they didn't wait longer to publish."

I know several people who practice calorie restriction; some of whom take scales to restaurants to weigh their food. This new research suggests that they may succeed in extending their lives. Of course, those of us who still feed ad libitum take solace from the quip: Calorie restriction may not actually extend your life; it may just make it seem that way. 

In any case, I am personally hoping that research on sirtuins pans out. Sirtuins are thought to activate the same metabolic pathways that calorie restriction does. If they work, they may allow us free-feeders to eat all the beer and pizza we want for a very long time. 

Whole New York Times article on calorie restricted monkeys can be found here. See also my article on longevity research "Forever Young" here

NEXT: Friday Funnies

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  1. I like eating. Actually, I love eating. I’ll take dying at 50 and having enjoyed my life over living to 90 and not. Plus, I don’t want to be decrepit.

  2. “the difference is not statistically significant, the Wisconsin team reports.”

    you can interrupt my morning bagel (with loads of cream cheese) when it is statistically significant – until then, leave me alone.

  3. I like the idea of living longer. I don’t like the idea of living worse. If I can’t work as well or enjoy my leisure time because I’m half-starved, is it worth a few more years at the end? I find being hungry a huge distraction from whatever else might be happening around me. Do you get over that after a while?

  4. some of whom take scales to restaurants to weigh their food

    They must make for delightful company, Ron.

  5. “Calorie restriction may not actually extend your life; it may just make it seem that way.”

    This is a variant of the truism “It’s later when you think.”

  6. TEH GUBMINT SHOUD MAKE EVREYBODY EAT 30% LESS SO WE CNA AL BE 100

  7. the difference is not statistically significant, the Wisconsin team reports.

    These data demonstrate that caloric restriction slows aging in a primate species,

    I don’t see how they square these two statements. I’ll have to read the article when my issue comes today.

  8. My family is pretty long-lived, I’m fairly skinny, but I HATE not eating what I want. I’d rather die at 92 instead of 95 and eat what I want.

  9. Yeah I’d love to live to 120. I’d also like to enjoy my finite time here on Earth.

    Go sirtuins!

  10. X, in process.

  11. If a friend of mine pulled out a scale at a restaurant I would beat him or her silly.

  12. Life extension research is throwing good money after bad. We need people to die younger, at least until social security works itself out.

  13. I’ll take dying at 50 and having enjoyed my life over living to 90 and not.

    50? I can see 75 or 80, but I think you’ll soon start to see that 50 doesn’t seem anywhere near a life fully lived, no matter how much you enjoyed it.

    (IIRC, Kyle, you’re a whippersnapper still? NTTAWWT)

  14. I’m holding out for the pill that simulates me eating 30% less.

  15. I read an interview a while back with Jack LaLanne in which he specifically attributed his longevity to raw vegetable foods; he said his philosophy is that good-tasting food is bad for you, so he doesn’t eat it. The man is ninety-four and a half years old and still lifts weights, but he looks like Skeletor and hasn’t tasted a steak in half a century. If he’s happy, good for him, but i intend to ride bacon-wrapped genes into at least my 80s.

  16. James Ard, What post do you hold with the Obama administration?

  17. Ah, here’s the exact quote (from Dr. Wik I. Pedia): “if it tastes good, spit it out.”

    Um, no, Jack.

  18. What post do you hold with the Obama administration?

    Nutritional Eschatology Czar.

  19. Health Care Czar.

  20. > Nutritional Eschatology Czar.

    How about Scatology Czar? “Don’t flush! Were you eating french fries again?!”

  21. This contradicts research that suggests the optimal BMI for longevity is 25.

    Of course it only contradicts it to the extent you handwaive the inconvenient data in this study. “Sure, caloric restriction makes you more likely to die from a dozen other reasons, but…”

  22. At a restaurant with some friends once I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and a whiskey and Coke. One of my friends said “You know you’ll live longer if you’ll quit eating and drinking that crap.”

    My response?

    “Why would you want to?”

  23. Let’s not forget Reason’s own calorie restricting primate.

    Meanwhile, I come from a long line of nonogenarian tubbies, so I plan on sticking with the control group to skew the results.

  24. My family is pretty long-lived…

    Life is short.

  25. I eat pretty healthy, but I eat and I exercise. The Japanese are known for longevity, but they don’t look like skeletons.

    Calorie restriction is just another gimmick idea for people who are too lazy to read the labels and take the time understand different body types and metabolisms.

    BMI is a bunch of bullshit, too.

  26. Wouldn’t regular exercise have the same or similar effect?

  27. In terms of deaths, 37 percent of the comparison monkeys have so far died in ways judged to be due to old age, compared with 13 percent of the dieting group.

    That sounds pretty statistically significant unless they have a hell of a margin of error.

    I can see excluding the monkeys who died from anaesthesia, but they should include gastric bloat to honor the monkeys with exploding stomachs.

  28. At a restaurant with some friends once I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and a whiskey and Coke. One of my friends said “You know you’ll live longer if you’ll quit eating and drinking that crap.”

    I congratulate on your civil response. Mine would have been more along the lines of “And you’ll live longer if you learn to keep your fucking mouth shut.”

  29. I’ll have my Monkey chow deep-fried with extra salt please.

  30. “bubba | July 10, 2009, 10:07am | #

    This contradicts research that suggests the optimal BMI for longevity is 25.”

    My bmi is 38 and change. I’m gonna live twice as long!

  31. # Pro Libertate | July 10, 2009, 9:20am | #
    # I’m holding out for the pill that simulates
    # me eating 30% less.

    I don’t know how long you will need to hold out, but they are definitely working on it:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/09/rapamycin_found_to_raise_life_expectancy_in_mice/

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