Originally published July 19 2008
The Most Potent Intervention Known to Increase Longevity Revealed
by Barbara L. Minton
(NaturalNews) Recent research is showing that Mother Nature does not look favorably on people who eat more than their fair share. People who overeat restrict their longevity and subject themselves to chronic and debilitating diseases. In fact, as unpleasant as this may sound, the most potent intervention known to protect against cancer and extend lifespan is calorie restriction.
What is calorie restriction?
Calorie restriction (maybe it won't sound as bad if we call it CR) is a lifestyle and a strategy to preserve health and maximize the life span. In studies using rodents and primates, CR has been shown to increase life span by up to 40%. CR provides numerous health benefits such as a greatly lowered risk for most of the degenerative conditions of aging. Recent studies have demonstrated these same health benefits in humans. Many researchers believe the evidence to date shows the practice of CR will extend the healthy human life span.
CR calls for a diet reduced in intake of calories to a level 20 to 40% lower than is typical, while still obtaining all the necessary nutrients and vitamins. But cheer up. Preliminary observations from a study reported in the January 15th issue of Free Radical Biology and Medicine indicates that even a small reduction of 8% in food intake may still provide protective effects against muscle and skeletal aging. Mild CR may be as easy as adopting a much healthier diet and taking some supplements.
If you choose to practice CR, you will probably lose weight, although this should not be your primary goal. There is a wealth of research indicating that being overweight or carrying excess body fat is harmful to your long term health in many different ways. Excess weight has been implicated in conditions ranging from diabetes to cancer to Alzheimer's, most likely due to the connection between fat cells and chronic inflammation. If you are overweight, you will probably have a shorter, less healthy life. You will age more rapidly and run an increased risk of degenerative disease. But there is more to CR than weight loss.
CR acts positively on the mechanisms of metabolism, in part by giving a boost to autophagy. Autophagy is the way in which cells remove damaged components in order to recycle the materials into new replacement parts. Several studies indicate specific types of damaged cellular components left behind cause problems over time and contribute to age-related decline and damage.
Let Mother Nature be your shopping guide
You can experience relatively painless CR by just changing the way you shop. Give up buying processed, modern, supermarket type foods. Instead, try a diet of whole foods and eat much of it raw. Look for foods brought to you directly by nature, not Conagra, Kraft or Frito-Lay. Choose vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, traditionally made yogurts and cheeses, eggs, fish, and a very small bit of whole grains. If you don't get enough sweetness from fruit, try a small bit of dark chocolate or some natural ice cream rather than processed baked goods. If you're eating out, get a salad. If you want a snack make popcorn on the stove or in a hot air popper and put butter on it. It's pretty certain that you already know how to do it. But maybe you need some motivation.
The point is getting maximum nutrition while eating less. Once you are on the road to maximum nutrition, you should rarely feel hungry even though you are practicing CR. Many people think they would feel starved eating like this. This is because they are used to eating the supermarket diet of processed foods. These foods are so nutritionally deficient and produce such tremendous insulin spikes that the more you eat, the hungrier you get. Your body wants nutrition, and until it gets it, it is going to tell you to keep eating. When you change the way you eat, incorporating a diet of whole, unprocessed food, you will be providing your body with the nutrition it craves. Your body will be happy and your cravings will disappear.
Some research to help with your motivation
In a human study by John O. Holloszy, a professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, it was noted that 18 people who had been practicing CR for 3 to 15 years showed a dramatically reduced risk of developing diabetes or clogged arteries. According to Dr. Holloszy, "calorie restriction has a powerful, protective effect against diseases associated with aging... we don't know how long each individual actually will end up living, but they certainly have a much longer life expectancy than average because they're most likely not going to die from a heart attack, stroke or diabetes." His study subjects, with an average age of 50, had blood pressure readings comparable to those of a 10 year old.
New Scientist reports that "people who substantially cut their calorie intake develop some of the traits associated with longevity discovered in animal research tests, such as greatly reduced fasting levels of the hormone insulin, a trait associated with longevity in animal research. Volunteers who restricted their caloric intake by 25% or achieved similar results by cutting calories and upping exercise had a reduced average core body temperature at the conclusion of the six month trial. Lower body temperatures are also associated with longevity. Each of the low calorie groups showed a statistically significant reduction in DNA damage in their blood cells, when compared with the control individuals." Some of the chemical by-products of food metabolism attack DNA, which might contribute to cancer and accelerate the effects of aging.
EurekAlert! reports that CR provides benefits even if started late in life. Professor Stephen Spindler and collaborators have discovered that engaging in CR later in life can induce many of the health and longevity benefits of life-long CR, including the anti-cancer effects. These beneficial effects may be the result of CR stimulating the body to eliminate damaged cells and to stimulate repair in damaged cells like neurons and heart cells.
Another report from EurekAlert! finds that "Cutting calories helps rodents live longer by boosting their cells' ability to recycle damaged parts so they can maintain efficient energy production... If you give them less food, the stress of this healthy habit actually makes them live longer. How does it work? During the aging process, free radicals -- highly reductive byproducts of our cells' respiration wreak havoc on our cellular machinery... younger cells are adept at reducing, recycling and rebuilding. In the process, mitochondria are quickly swallowed up and degraded. The broken down pieces are then recycled and used to build new mitochondria. However, older cells are less adept at this process, so damaged mitochondria tend to accumulate and contribute to aging. The stress of a low-calorie diet was enough to boost cellular cleaning in the hearts of older rats by 120 percent."
A study reported in Nucleic Acids Research found that CR reduces the incidence and progression of spontaneous and induced tumors in laboratory rodents while increasing mean and maximum life spans, perhaps due to a reduction in DNA damage and mutations that occur with age. Researchers were attracted to this hypothesis because the integrity of the genome is essential to a cell/organism, and because it is supported by observations that cancer and immunological defects are associated with DNA damage. Research has shown the effects of CR on the integrity of the genome and the ability of cells to repair DNA.
Another study from Nutra.com Europe concludes that restricting the diets of mice reduces the build-up of plaques in the brain that are linked to Alzheimer's disease.
And finally, a study from the University of Buffalo reports that CR can help one maintain physical fitness into advanced age, slowing the seemingly inevitable progression to physical disability and loss of independence. The study, using a rat model of life-time CR showed that the diet reduces the amount of visceral fat which expresses inflammatory factors that in humans cause chronic disease and a decline in physical performance and vitality across the lifespan. This is the first study to report that caloric restriction reduces production in visceral fat of the inflammatory cytokine IL-6 and enhances performance as revealed in overall physical function assessments. In addition, rats that ate a normal diet lost a significant amount of lean muscle mass and acquired more fat, while CR rats maintained lean muscle mass as they aged.
About the authorBarbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.
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