Good News: Research Confirms Way to Boost Healthy Longevity

Bad news: Most of us have got to eat less to live longer


Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Researchers have shown time and again that calorie restriction increases healthy longevity in all sorts of creatures, including yeast, flies, and mice. Spurred by these findings, some folks dedicated to living as long as possible have adopted calorie restriction as way of life and research shows that it does result in improvements in all kinds of biomarkers associated with longevity. But will it really work in already long-lived mammals like humans? Two research groups—the Wisconsin National Primate Center and the National Institute on Aging (NIA)—have been feeding and following the health and survival status of two different colonies of rhesus monkeys for more than 30 years. In each, half of the monkeys ate as much as they wanted while the other half was fed a diet that was about 30 percent lower in calories.

Four years ago, the NIA researchers reported preliminary findings that calorie restriction did improve the health of monkeys, but not their longevity. However, the Wisconsin researchers reported that calorie restriction did improve survival rates. So what is going on? Today, in Nature Communications, the research from both groups is pooled and further analysis does find that calorie restriction does, indeed, boost both health and longevity in monkeys. It turns out that differences in the design of the two experiments are responsible for the differing results with regard to monkey longevity.

First, the NIA group initiated calorie restriction when its monkeys were young whereas the Wisconsin researchers waited until theirs were full-grown adults. It now turns out that eating less is beneficial for adult monkeys but not for younger ones. Second, the NIA control monkeys actually ate less than the Wisconsin control monkeys, as a result the NIA control monkeys lived longer than the Wisconsin control monkeys. And third, while the diets of both groups of monkeys had similar calorie density, compared to the Wisconsin diet, the NIA diet was lower in fat, higher in protein and higher in fiber. In addition, both groups' diets contained?60% carbohydrates, but sucrose* comprised less than 7 percent of total carbohydrates at NIA and 45 percent of total carbohydrates at Wisconsin. Diets at both locations were replete for vitamins that were provided at or above the recommended daily allowance. As the press release from the University of Wisconsin-Madison noted, the Wisconsin control animals were fatter than the control monkeys at NIA, indicating that at nonrestricted levels of food intake, what is eaten can make a big difference for fat mass and body composition.*

Longevity figures in the studies are not complete since many of the monkeys are still alive, but Wisconsin researchers calculate that the median survival rate for calorie restricted male and female monkeys is ?28 and ?30 years of age respectively compared to 26 years for control monkeys. The researchers also report that calorie-restricted monkeys experience less cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, muscle-wasting, and diabetes.

"In conclusion, the NIA and UW nonhuman primate ageing and CR studies address a central concept of relevance to human ageing and human health: that the age-related increase in disease vulnerability in primates is malleable and that ageing itself presents a reasonable target for intervention," note the researchers. "Processes impacted by CR would be prime targets for the development of clinical interventions to offset age-related morbidity, and identification of factors involved in the mechanisms of CR will be pivotal in bringing these ideas to clinical research and human health care."

*It seems appropriate to mention my review of The Case Against Sugar here considering that its author Gary Taubes argues persuasively that high levels of sugar consumption are especially harmful to health.

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  1. Without reading the article, based on the picture accompanying it, I’m going to say the key to longevity has to do with Harry Harlow.

    1. How many monkeys do I have to eat to live to 100?


  3. Does anyone NOT realize that as you get older you should eat less? Fuck me, I realized this before I fucking turned 40…and I wasn’t wrong….

    1. Closer to death -> less time to enjoy blts -> EAT MOAR

  4. It now turns out that eating less is beneficial for adult monkeys but not for younger ones.

    Little known science fact: You are born with all the fat cells you will ever have in your life, except for the ones you might add on to store extra fat. Growing monkeys are growing, but adults are set, so extra caloric intake means eventually giving up and just wearing sweats out in public.

    If only scientists understood the importance of teaching monkeys the BMI.

    1. And taxing the Monkey’s sugary soda.

  5. It is the key to living longer, if something else doesn’t kill you first. Moreover, even if you do live longer, what is the quality of life for even a healthy 90 year old? Better than death I suppose but good enough to justify a lifetime of denial? I don’t think so. Not that you should be a glutton but if the price of maybe obtaining a few extra years of very old age is living in an ascetic life when you are young, no thank you.

    1. Spiritual fulfillment isn’t reason enough?

      1. I don’t find much spiritual fulfillment from ascetic denial.

        1. Wait, aren’t you Catholic? Isn’t that like one of the most revered qualities?

    2. It’s Bailey, warding off death is the only thing that matters. Every longevity article is really just reflective of his inability to cope with his own mortality. It’s the standard mid/late life crisis for atheist transhumanists.

      1. Is that “standard” a thing? I’m an atheist over 50 and I am fine with my own mortality. If anything, I’m more concerned with being feeble than being dead.

        1. I should have qualified it with bad atheists, but the transhumanism is the other factor. For the most public case study see Ray Kurzweil.

      2. JT: I will have you know that I was worried about my mortality decades before I arrived at mid/late life status.

        1. Alas! There comes the time when man will no longer give birth to any star. Alas! There comes the time of the most despicable man, who can no longer despise himself.

          Lo! I show you the Last Man.

          “What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?” so asks the Last Man, and blinks.

          The earth has become small, and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable as the flea; the Last Man lives longest.

          “We have discovered happiness” — say the Last Men, and they blink.

          They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs against him; for one needs warmth.

          Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or men!

          A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end for a pleasant death.

          One still works, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.

          1. One no longer becomes poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome.

            No shepherd, and one herd! Everyone wants the same; everyone is the same: he who feels differently goes voluntarily into the madhouse.

            “Formerly all the world was insane,” say the subtlest of them, and they blink.

            They are clever and know all that has happened: so there is no end to their derision. People still quarrel, but are soon reconciled – otherwise it upsets their stomachs.

            They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.

            “We have discovered happiness,” say the Last Men, and they blink.

            1. JT: What make you think that transhuman capabilities including dramatically extended life expectancy will result in Nietzsche’s Last Man? For a truly amazing fictional alternative vision see Hannu Rajaniemi’s Jean le Flambeur trilogy.

              1. What make you think that transhuman capabilities including dramatically extended life expectancy will result in Nietzsche’s Last Man?

                Interaction with actual humans and what they value.

    3. Intermittent fasting is the easiest method to achieve this calorie restriction for the purpose of longevity and weight loss, and once you practice it a few times, doesn’t feel like denial or asceticism at all.

      Don’t fall for the “eat like a rabbit 6 times a day” myth unless you want to feel like a malnourished rabbit.

      1. Do you have any useful links on Intermittent fasting?

          1. I’ve lost quite a lot of weight by eating basically one meal a day, plus snacks and coffee drinks.

            Eat all you want that one meal, and you’ll still likely consume fewer calories than from three lighter meals.

  6. So who else is currently consuming an excess of calories while they read this article?

    1. *Looks at pack of Starburst I just bought from the vending machine, raises hand*

  7. What a load of horseshit. I don’t mean the study, I mean life. Everything that’s fun is bad for you, and everything that’s good for you sucks.

    I’d rather not have been born than live in a universe where snorting an 8-ball and eating a can of Crisco is harmful, but nibbling on lettuce like a fucking rabbit is (health-wise) rewarded.

    1. You were born in a universe that is out to kill you. Nature is not our mother, it is our psychotic sibling.

      1. Tell me about it. In celebration of this news and with all due deference to Monty Crisco below, I’ll be eating a delicious monty cristo sandwich for lunch, because fuck this universe.

        1. I think of Bailey eating his vegetables and exercising and living the world’s most responsible and boring life, and I can’t help but get the feeling he is going to drop over dead from a heart attack or get run over by a runaway self driving truck before he is 70 and all of that responsible living will be for nothing.

          Meanwhile, I had a grandmother who smoked and drank like a fish for her entire life and died at age 93 in a car accident. She was still very healthy at the time. it took being T-boned by a logging truck to kill her.

          1. I do think the impact of genetics is wildly understated. Every time there’s one of those “new oldest person in the world” stories, they always have some stupid thing they attribute their longevity to, but it’s always something different. Some people stay up for a whole day and sleep for a whole day (actually did read one of them say that). Others eat fried eggs every day, or don’t eat any fried foods, blah blah blah. Point is, there isn’t any consistent thread, at least that the people themselves are aware of.

            Everybody on my father’s side of the family dies young, including the “healthy” ones – we’re doing our part to keep social security solvent. We’re just planning on my wife having 30 years after I’m gone, so any fellas reading this, she’s Asian, so she’ll only look like she’s 45 when she’s actually 60. I’d rather her remarry one of you lot than some old leftist.

            1. I agree. It is genetics. The rest is just people telling themselves stories.

            2. so she’ll only look like she’s 45 when she’s actually 60.

              And then she’ll look like she’s 400 when she’s actually 65?

          2. J: I regularly binge drink scotch and martinis in order to seek solace for my “responsible and boring life.” I did quit my 3 to 4 pack per day cigarette habit in my mid-30s. With regard to my keeling over at age 70 from a heart attack, both my parents died of cardiovascular disease -heart attack and stroke – one month after their 70th birthdays. Ah, genetics!

            1. I did quit my 3 to 4 pack per day cigarette habit in my mid-30s.

              And suddenly my cigarette habit seems like nothing. I need to get on your level.

              1. I smoke like a pack day and feel it. I can’t imagine tripling or quadrupling that. I probably wouldn’t have the breath to get out of bed in the morning.

          3. My maternal grandfather died at 95, and was reasonably vigourous until the last 6 months of his life. My maternal great-grandfather lived to 104; he didn’t die of old age ? he was re-shingling his Normandy cottage’s roof and fell off the building.

            On the flip side, the only relatives who died in their 80s or younger all died from the same thing ? cancer (mostly liver). :-/

      2. Oh, nature’s our mother, but she’s got postpartum depression and sociopathy.

      3. I don’t care that it is out to kill me but can it at least let me have a little god damned fun while I am stuck here?

    2. Fuckin’ A, man, fuckin’ A….

    3. You were born into a universe where the progs are in charge. What else would you expect?

      1. Progs control the little blue dot we’re on. The universe is mostly run by the Reptilians and 90s TNG Space Clouds.

        1. The universe is mostly run by the Reptilians and 90s TNG Space Clouds.

          Where does the Q continuum fit in?

          1. Doesn’t exist, but there is a religion dedicated to John de Lancie three centuries from now based on old VHS tapes.

        2. The Reptilians voted 60% for Hillary. The dung beetles were loyal Trump supporters though.

    4. nibbling on lettuce like a fucking rabbit

      I’d rather fuck like a rabbit while being nibbled on.

  8. I’m not sure if it’s that the increase in life expectancy isn’t enough to justify sacrificing all the food I love to eat; but maybe even if it added another ten years to my life, I might not think it was worth it.

    My family (on all sides) belongs to a demographic that is well known to outlive just about everyone else in the country. Of the four of my grandparents, the one that died the youngest died at 88. Three of the four were sharp as a whip when they died. My grandmother still drove herself well into her ’90s. My great grandmother was almost a centenarian–lived on her own, traveled alone. Yeah, I’ve talked to smart people from the 19th century.

    I just don’t think I’d be gaining much for the sacrifice of food–in my case. I don’t really drink much or smoke–just like they didn’t–but unlike them, they didn’t run five miles a day, four days a week. (Yeah, I know–running that much is bad for my heart, but it’s better than smoking or diabetes!) Living a few more years beyond that might get me out beyond the singularity, and, sure, I’d like to live to see that for qualitative reasons–even if it doesn’t make me immortal. But I’m likely to outlive most of my peers anyway.

    Scientific thought has a hard time accounting for qualitative considerations. Some risks to my health and longevity are worth taking.

    Oh, and seeing the pictures of those monkeys reminds me of the best transhumanist music video ever.

  9. Well I’m not a scientist but I’m pretty sure there’ve been studies showing that not consuming calories shortens one’s lifespan more than an excess of calories does. Conclusion: calories win.

  10. I’m still very skeptical. The initial CR monkey studies left out crucial information, like how listless and dull the CR monkies were, how they were more prone to injury and took longer to heal, and how a few of them died during routine medical care because they were so frail (and were therefore removed from the study and lifespan averages – include them and you’d see the controls living longer on average).

    1. That last point would completely turn the conclusion offered on its head.

      1. Yeah, oops.

    2. I’m still very skeptical.

      The metadata bullshit (not to mention outright misstatement by Bailey) is pretty fucking irritating too;

      Nevertheless, many of the metabolic and hormonal adaptations that are typical of the long-lived CR rodents did not occur in either the NIA or WNPRC CR monkeys.

      Everybody does the metadata study on peanut butter and chocolate to discover that Reese’s peanut butter cups are delicious. Somehow, nobody ever manages to combine a hard, flat shingle-like object with a substance that feels and smells like horse manure and wind up with shit on a shingle.

  11. The anorexics were right all along. Fact.

  12. That’s nice now get back here and eat your dinner

  13. It ain’t all that difficult:

    Lift a lot
    Eat a lot
    Fuck a lot
    Sleep a lot

      1. Does jerkin it count?

        Years ago, a study was reported that showed frequent masturbation correlated with good prostate health. My reaction was that if that’s true, I know one cancer that I won’t be dying from.

        1. They say that if you keep touching yourself, you’ll go blind.

          Can I keep doing it just until I need glasses?

  14. didnt read article – skipped straight to comments – answer has to be have more sex

  15. didnt read article – skipped straight to comments – answer has to be have more sex

  16. Of course, the all-you-can-eat monkey is less likely to rip your face off in a hunger induced fit of madness.

  17. Who wants to live to be 110 if you can never eat dessert? Or maybe it just seems like a long time… the emaciation of some devotees of calorie restriction is frightening. But I think Taubes is onto something.

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