Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Could You Live to 140? It Could be a Matter of Starvation

It sounds simple enough, and that's why I like the theory: eat less, live longer. Plus, it's something that's really hard to do. So I like it more. When diets get complex (like Weight Watchers) or include indulgences like bacon (think Atkins), I'm pretty skeptical. These are fad diets. But calorie restriction, it has a nice, hard-ass ring to it that makes me think it could do something.

According to a
recent article at the New York Times, the benefits of a calorie-restrictive diet are mounting. People on a calorie-restricted diet have low cholesterol, "virtually no arterial blockage," "remarkably low blood pressure," low insulin levels, and less chromosomal damage. A diet with "30 percent fewer calories than normal," is considered "restrictive."

A calorie-restrictive diet may work by scaring cells straight. "Limited access to energy alarms the body… activating a cascade of biochemical signals that tell each cell to direct energy away from reproductive functions, toward repair and maintenance," reports the Times.

Monkeys on a calorie-restrictive diet retain youthful vitality well into their golden years. Mice live 40 percent longer. But evidence on human life expectancy is lacking.

Critics of calorie-restrictive diets point to a recent study that found thin people do not live longer than larger ones. In fact, people who were exceptionally thin had a higher risk of death. My first question: did the study adjust for smoking? The Times didn't say. But other research suggests calorie restriction may only increase life expectancy by two to seven percent. And is that worth switching spinach for mashed potatoes or soy beans for steak? Probably not.

However, even skeptics concede there are "benefits." And some supporters maintain that the idea isn't simply to live longer, but to feel like you're 50 when you're actually 80. I like that idea. Let's not live longer, but healthier.

Of course, living longer isn't out of the question. The Times reports, "a pill mimicking the effects of calorie restriction might increase human life span to about 112 healthy years, with the occasional senior living until 140."

A pill? Too easy. That I'm skeptical of.


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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.