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Seeking the Fountain of Youth Ω Eat Less PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Lipschitz   
Thursday, 20 February 2014 06:40

Thank goodness older people don't want to live forever. When I tell my patients I have no wish to prolong their lives but assure them that the lives they have are of the highest possible quality, the answer is almost always the same: "Thank you, doctor. That's exactly what I want." And yet many naive baby boomers are desperately seeking the magic approach that will prolong their lives to age 100 and beyond.

Well, there really is a way to achieve this, but it is so rigorous that only the truly committed "nuts" will accomplish it. For almost 30 years, scientists have known that feeding animals a diet that decreases food intake by 30 percent prolongs their average and maximal life expectancy by 30 percent. Extrapolating this to man means increasing our average life expectancy to 100, and maximal life expectancy to 140 or 150. Restricting calories also improves health, with less kidney disease (the major cause of death in rats) and a dramatic reduction in the occurrence of cancer.

Calorie-restricted mice stay healthy for a long time. Then, when they're much older than the average, they gradually lose weight, get less active, and eventually lie down in a corner and die peacefully. Autopsies show that they have truly died of "old age," as no specific illness or cause of death can be identified. There is no evidence of cancer, heart disease, lung disease or kidney disease.

How low-calorie diets prolong life has been the target of intensive research. We do know that every marker of advancing age is either slowed or reversed. As we age, cells throughout the body lose their ability to neutralize toxic chemicals, and age-related changes in metabolism make cell function less efficient. It's thought that restricting calories makes cells more robust and more resistant to declines in function and environmental insults. More recently, research on monkeys has found similar results.

These results are widely known in the anti-aging society, and there is a small group of people who have attempted this on themselves. They have dramatically restricted their food intake, consuming 30 percent less than their original diets. A recent report in the Washington Post described one man who for four years was consuming only two meals a day consisting of fruits, vegetables and nuts, and unsweetened herb tea as a snack. This diet is truly draconian. Currently, the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health is sponsoring research studies on these people.

First reports indicate their life spans may be prolonged. These people appear healthier, have lower blood pressure, very low cholesterols, markedly improved overall metabolism, and significant reductions in the biomarkers of the aging process and of devastating diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes and cancer. This provides compelling evidence that yes, indeed there may be a way to live longer. But would we really want to do this? Few of us, I think, would voluntarily forgo a third of or daily calories for the rest of our lives.

We simply don't have the stamina or the desire to go hungry all of the time. I hate to say it, but the mice on these calorie-restricted diets aren't happy mice. They are overly active and agitated, and they are always hungry, which makes them pretty grumpy. Researchers on the study say mice are always trying to bite the hands that are not feeding them.

Not much of a life, I'm afraid. We always strive to assure that life is of the highest possible quality, and while overeating can cause a great deal of harm, undereating, I believe, would make life not worth living. So while calorie restriction may prolong life and reduce disease, it is not practical in real life. And yet, this research is very important.

If we can truly understand how calorie restriction prolongs life, we may be able to truly find the magic bullet that could slow the aging process and make us live longer without such severe reductions in food intake. While living longer may be a questionable goal, reduction in the prevalence of disease and dependency should improve our health and quality of life. Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the book “Breaking the Rules of Aging.” To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz visit