Stay Hungry, Live Longer: the Science Behind the Calorie Restriction Diet

An SMU biologist thinks the secret to the fountain of youth may be found by putting fruit flies on a diet.

In mice, flies and monkeys, that is.

"Calorie restriction works in the lower organisms, we know," Bauer says. "But with humans it's anybody's guess so far."

The best guess in the scientific community is that starting a program of calorie restriction in your 30s might add two years, says Bauer. "If you start in your 40s, it's six months. Start later than that, it's negligible. It could be a few extra weeks."

Dr. Johannes Bauer joined the SMU
biology department last fall. He has
placed thousands of fruit flies in his lab
on a calorie-restriction diet, which
he says will lengthen their lives.
MARK GRAHAM
Dr. Johannes Bauer joined the SMU biology department last fall. He has placed thousands of fruit flies in his lab on a calorie-restriction diet, which he says will lengthen their lives.
After years of yo-yo dieting, Dallas actress Miranda Martinez adopted
an all-raw vegan regimen and
dropped 66 pounds. She now
coaches other raw foodists.
MARK GRAHAM
After years of yo-yo dieting, Dallas actress Miranda Martinez adopted an all-raw vegan regimen and dropped 66 pounds. She now coaches other raw foodists.

Yet other researchers seriously doubt the health and longevity benefits of calorie restriction for humans. They say it affects fertility and sometimes causes brittle bones. Animals put on CR early in life are smaller in adulthood. Even devoted human followers of CR complain of cold hands and sniffles that never go away.

So why all the interest in calorie restriction now? What Bauer and other researchers know for sure is that there is a genetic component to the "calorie restriction response" in lab animals, including fruit flies, that is probably similar in humans. Given less food than the body thinks it needs, there is a "switch" that goes on, says Bauer, sending a message to the body's metabolic functions.

"If we could develop switches in the body to turn on and off the calorie restriction response, we could extend life expectancy," Bauer says. That's what he's looking for in his fruit flies—the "switch" in their genetic makeup that will give the order to their bodies to be healthy and live longer, no matter how much they eat.

And if they find the switch, says Bauer, scientists want to develop a drug that will activate that genetic on-off mechanism to mimic the health effects of calorie reduction without requiring a drastic change in diet. That will be the magic pill. One that fools the human body's metabolism and slows the aging process. One that allows people to remain disease-free without having to eat smaller meals.

And here's the good news: Some scientists think they've found it.

----

It's called resveratrol. It's a natural substance available right now for a few cents a dose in health food and vitamin stores. Sold under various retail names, it's classified as a food supplement in the "antioxidant" category and is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

It's been proven effective already on fat mice in a University of Pennsylvania study published in 2006 in the premier science journal Nature. Mice raised on the equivalent of a cheeseburger-and-fries diet were given resveratrol and compared to mice fattened without the supplement. The study found that the fat mice on resveratrol didn't lose weight but were healthier than the other mice. They also lived longer. In a French study, resveratrol-fed fat mice outran skinny ones in treadmill tests and built up healthy muscle even without exercise.

"Resveratrol could be the get-healthy drug," SMU's Bauer says. "It could be the miracle drug."

And Big Pharma doesn't even control it (yet). Medical and pharmaceutical interest in resveratrol has boomed over the past decade. Found naturally in certain vines, pine trees, red grapes, chocolate and peanuts, it is a chemical "polyphenol" that helps plants fight off drought, fungi, parasites and other external stressors. In the early 1990s, chemists looking to find the key to the "French paradox," which allows the French to eat fatty food without getting heart disease, zeroed in on resveratrol, part of the natural chemistry of red wine grapes and the likely reason red wine produced healthy heart effects.

Dozens of studies now have pinpointed the substance as a bonus not only to heart health but to the prevention of Alzheimer's and diabetes, reversals of inflammatory responses to spinal cord injuries, and the prevention and treatment of stroke. Resveratrol is being tested in clinical studies as a natural supplement to chemotherapy and has shown the ability to block cancer cells before they metastasize to bone.

In the most widely publicized report on resveratrol, researchers at Harvard Medical School showed that it mimicked calorie restriction and activated the "longevity gene" in yeast, extending its lifespan by 70 percent. Harvard professor David Sinclair, one of the scientists on that study, is so confident about the future of resveratrol, he founded a biomedical research company, Sirtris (named for the sirtuin family of enzymes that react to calorie restriction), which focuses on discovering resveratrol-like "small molecule drugs." Sirtris Pharmaceuticals was recently acquired by drug giant GlaxoSmithKline for $720 million.

Creating a synthetic resveratrol, one that can be approved by the FDA (and will be profitable for GlaxoSmithKline), will be one of the biggest medical discoveries since aspirin, Sinclair said in an interview on the PBS' NewsHour. "Let's admit that people have claimed that they've had the elixir of youth probably for the last 40,000 or more years. So I don't want to claim that we have the cure for aging, by any means, but it's really clear that modern medicine, modern molecular biology has finally grasped a potential way to manipulate lifespan and have a dramatic impact on health care."

A pill that diets for you is certainly easier than staying hungry. The question is how much resveratrol, or its derivatives, you'd have to take to get the benefits. In the concentrated version used in lab studies, each dose is about the equivalent of 14 bottles of red wine.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
16 comments
Singleton_78
Singleton_78

I am 33 yrs old, why does it seem like eating less was easier when I was in my 20's? Is thier a biological or metabolic reason for this? This totally perplexes me. I get 1 hour of cardiovasucular excercise 3 to 4 times per week but it is not having the same effect on my figure as it did when I was just 2 years younger. What should I do about this?

Stephan
Stephan

Dr. J - I thought you where taller then me and I didn't know you weighed less then me - Stephan G

At 5-foot-7-inches, 140 pounds, the German-born scientist (who looks about 19) never exercises, doesn't take resveratrol and has never been on a diet. "Humans evolved as omnivores. They ate everything in their path," he says.

Rick
Rick

Obesity and overweight pose a major risk for chronic diseases. That's about 2/3 of the population yet no doubt the same group that banned public smoking (due to health concerns ha ha)

When will fat and obese people be taxed for driving up health care costs for the good people who don't eat eat eat? They drive up health care costs more then smokers did plus they cause accidents... Have you ever seen an overeater try to drive? They can hardly back a car up because they can not turn around to look behind them... overweight people should be given a restricted license as well.

Quit eating so much and try this restricted diet.

Lukka
Lukka

This is really great article about losing weight on healthy way...

Jill
Jill

Just to correct a bit of misinformation in the article:

Eating vegan or raw is NOT a variation on the calorie restriction diet. The vast majority of vegans and raw foodists have chosen their diets for health, environmental and animal abuse reasons and do not purposely eat fewer calories than is currently deemed necessary.

Jill
Jill

Just to correct a bit of misinformation in the article:

Eating vegan or raw is NOT a variation on the calorie restriction diet. The vast majority of vegans and raw foodists have chosen their diets for health, environmental and animal abuse reasons and do not purposely eat fewer calories than is currently deemed necessary.

Stevemle
Stevemle

To Tim's comment:"I would rather die middle-aged and happy than be old and miserable."

I say: "Don't knock it, until you try it. You might surprise your self."

SS
SS

"Vyff now eats once a day, usually a lean chicken breast poached in water, some steamed broccoli or squash and maybe a glass of fresh orange juice. She eats red meat once every two weeks and prefers it cooked rare. Her daily calorie count hovers around 1,200 if she's not exercising"

This is complete BS. If she eats ONCE a day and that once a day is a lean chicken breast poached in water w/ veggies and MAYBE a glass of OJ she isn't coming anywhere NEAR 1,200 calories per day. That is probably a max of 300 calories. The math here doesn't add up in the least.

George
George

So SMU professor wants us to eat 6 walnut halves (3 walnuts) and 3 chocolate chips.

Some of the SMU students already do this, so it shouldn't be too hard. Except that THIS IS AN EATING DISORDER, NOT A HEALTH BENEFIT.

Harris
Harris

Well we certainly shouldn't be publishing information intended to help people make nutritional choices on the basis of fruit fly studies and children's book authors.

Quack medical advice like this is hurting people for a few quick bucks.

Express your distaste for such dangerous nonsense by not buying the Observer.

izz
izz

"Vyff now eats once a day, usually a lean chicken breast poached in water, some steamed broccoli or squash and maybe a glass of fresh orange juice. Her daily calorie count hovers around 1,200"

One meal a day does NOT come to 1,200 calories, even at McDonalds. One serving of veggies, oj & chicken has less than half that amount.

This woman needs to see a nutritionist. Calorie restriction is defined as getting your dietary needs met with vegies, fruits, beans & wholegrains. Living on three chocolate chips is the definition of anorexia.

S. Gupta
S. Gupta

The red wine extract resveratrol is a calorie restriction mimetic, in other words it mimics the effects of calorie restriction without the need to reduce calorie consumption.

Since the Harvard resveratrol study on aging by Dr. Sinclair was published in the journal Nature a flood of dubious companies have sprung up selling resveratrol. Many have no scientists, no labs, no quality control and no experience. Both I and Dr. Mehmet Oz have recommended Biotivia Bioforte and Transmax. They are made by a company with 18 years of experience, and Biotivia supplies many of the university medical schools, health ministries and researchers.

Consumer Lab, an independent testing authority, evaluated the major brands and found many lacking in content and quality. The highest potency products that passed their evaluation were Biotivia, Transmax and Bioforte. A product by Life Extension Co. failed badly with only 26% of the claimed resveratrol. This is clearly a case of buyer beware. Look for a reputable company with the resources necessary to product this compound.

tina
tina

"Vyff now eats once a day, usually a lean chicken breast poached in water, some steamed broccoli or squash and maybe a glass of fresh orange juice. ... Her daily calorie count hovers around 1,200 if she's not exercising; 1,600 to 1,800 if she runs 5 or 10 miles on the treadmill."

This doesn't compute at all. One chicken breast, some broccoli, and a glass of orange juice is nowhere near 1200 calories. (Unless it's a whole jug of orange juice and some mutant chicken breast.) I personally also eat approximately 1000-1200 calories on a daily basis, and I eat lots more than that - Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and at least one or two snacks.

Tim Covington
Tim Covington

I would rather die middle-aged and happy than be old and miserable.

Diana Ivette
Diana Ivette

That´s true. People often tell me they are envious of how much food I eat without gaining weight. But I think it's not about how much you eat but what you eat and the variety in your diet.

For example while most people drink a glass of orange, i eat the whole fruit, which is more satisfying and has less calories. I eat vegetables of all colors before eating the main course, whatever it is, I try to adapt. If i eat a hamburger i don't put dressing on it, and change the fries for salad, and that doesn't make it less appetizing. For dessert I choose a fruit or have some ice cream. I have no problem with it. I enjoy what i eat. In fact I've never liked dressings and fatty food too much.

By the other side, I can see that most of the people who are dieting eat little plates of lettuce with lots of dressing to have a less terrifying experience, and end up with the feeling of being miserable and hungry asking themselves why if they eat so little, they still stay fat.

The point is that my daily count is low and I eat much more than a piece of chicken and steamed broccoli. That's miserable and unnecessary. I love food and love to be healthy too.

 
Loading...