Using caloric restriction to slow the aging process

Aging is an inevitable part of life and each year there are thousands of products that claim “anti-aging” effects. While there are numerous claims, current research suggests that caloric restriction can slow the harmful effects of aging.

What is caloric restriction?

Caloric restriction, which has been extensively studied in various different primates, is a concept that has been around for decades. Defined as an overall decrease in overall caloric consumption of at least 30 percent to no more than 60 percent without any malnutrition, caloric restriction is capable of extending mean and maximal lifespan while delaying age-related diseases that older adults often experience.

The controversy

As described in an article by lef.org, a two-year long (and still ongoing) controversy surrounds the topic of caloric restriction on health. The National Institute on Aging backed a claim by stating that eating less may have no known benefit on health and aging, which led to many to question the overall benefits of restricting consumption. When such a large and well-known organization backs claims such as this, research takes a back seat. Fortunately, more and more positive results are published every year as a result of proper scientific protocols.

Review of the literature

A recent scientific review on caloric restriction concluded that long-term restriction in calorie consumption in rodents was feasible. Some aspects on aging that are typically observed include an increased body temperature, metabolic rate, and a reduction in markers of oxidative stress (markers that help fight against cancer). One of the main factors observed in this review was that caloric restriction with proper nutrition can induce changes in the rodents that elicit a reduction in body temperature, resting metabolic rate, and the markers of oxidative stress. Moreover, insulin levels (when high can produce fat growth in the body), growth factors, cytokines, and TNF alpha are all reduced in response to restricting consumption in rodents. This is especially important from a health aspect for humans and results similar to these could be crucial for healthcare and the human lifespan.

Does caloric restriction lower heart disease risk?

Another review on the effects of caloric restriction discussed similar aspects. Metabolic disorders, especially obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, are increasing in prevalence and one issue for this is overconsumption of food and a decrease in physical activity. In a fresh review article, caloric restriction was stated as a way to decrease visceral adiposity, which is one of the biggest indicators of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. This review discussed that decreasing overall visceral (abdominal area) adiposity is associated with a rise in mean and maximal lifespan. Moreover, weight loss in obese individuals can lead to an overall reduction in cardiovascular disease risk and restricting caloric consumption without malnutrition can reduce or even stop the incidence of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. This review of the literature on caloric restriction sheds light to the benefits of caloric restriction on health.

Caloric restriction and aging

Aging typically is accompanied by a reduction in metabolic rate and is often associated with increased visceral adiposity, increased blood pressure, increased resting heart rate, and an overall increase in fat levels. Both review articles discussed in this article demonstrate that caloric restriction can help reduce adiposity, improve insulin levels (reduction in diabetes risk), and lower heart disease risk. A reduction or improvement in these health parameters can help improve overall metabolic profiles, but more importantly, they are improvements on parameters strongly associated with typical aging.

Humans and eating less

One article presented by lef.org discussed important effects of caloric restriction among Okinawan adults, which was followed for 60 years. The article stated the beneficial effects of a small to moderate calorie restriction of 11 percent in these adults’ diets. The average lifespan for these adults was the longest recorded in the world and they experienced a low incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, certain forms of dementia, and a reported good quality of life as a result of this as well (many live to be at least 90 years of age).

While there are many products, lotions, etc. claiming anti-aging effects, it is not as farfetched as once believed to stop or slow some effects of aging. Caloric restriction, when coupled with exercise, can help slow aging, increase life span, and help increase health span. A long-term approach with even modest caloric restriction can have beneficial health impacts that are often observed in aging including increasing fat levels, diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic disorder.

Last Reviewed: Kate Marie 28.08.2016 

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