Eat Less, Live Longer

Health Alert 139

Do you have aspirations of living to 100 years old and beyond? There is an undercurrent of research that supports you in achieving your longevity ambitions. New research shows that eating less may add years to your life.

In several studies, caloric intake cut by 40% has increased the lifespan of laboratory animals ranging from mice to geese by as much as 50%.1 Some humans have jumped on the bandwagon, hoping they will live to see the 22nd century by cutting calories.

Today, you’ll learn why caloric restriction can help you live longer and how to do it safely.

* The Anti-aging Effect of Eating Less*

A reduced calorie diet was first shown to extend life in rats in the 1930s.2 The study was then extended to other organisms including: yeast, water fleas, spiders, guppies, and a microscopic water invertebrate known as rotifer.3 Now Labrador retrievers and monkeys are the subject of this study.

Monkeys share more than 90% of their genes with humans.4 The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have been studying a colony of 120 rhesus monkeys for 15 years. The control monkeys eat their normal diet. The other monkeys eat 30% less. Those eating 30% less are living longer. And they’re healthier too. The underfed ones have a lower rate of developing age-linked diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. 5

One of the underfed monkeys is 38 years old. This is the equivalent to 114 human years.6 Scientists believe this is substantiating evidence that humans could benefit the same through calorie restriction. In fact the NIH plans to spend $20 million to test the effects of calorie restriction on American adults.7

This new research has attracted a following known as the Cronies (Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition). Many believe they have found their “fountain of youth” by cutting calories. Some have taken it to extremes. Some of the side effects of severe calorie restriction are:

• hair loss

• lower testosterone

• irritability

• low libido

• anemia

• osteoporosis.

One such example is a 31 year old Canadian male who is six-foot-tall and weighs only 115 lbs.8 This is not my ideal of optimal health. But if longevity is his only concern he may indeed live longer.

* Eat Less Cake, Celebrate More Birthdays *

Restricting your calories is an effective anti-aging course of action. When you eat less a number of things occur metabolically:

• Body temperature drops

• Blood pressure lowers

• Cholesterol levels drop

• Cells divide at a slower rate

• The rate of glycation drops

• Free radical activity drops

• Oxidation activity drops

Essentially what is happening is a form of hibernation. You are “living less” thus adding years to your lifespan. The less food you eat the less your metabolic system has to work.

* Eat Less Safely *

Here are some tips on how you might modify the low calorie approach. I believe it is possible to achieve the desired life extension while minimizing the starvation related side effects. One, you can eat less empty calories while preserving needed protein and essential fatty acids. Two, you can eat less for brief periods of time. I myself, fast periodically for the anti-aging effect it can have.

If you are eating less, protein should be the focus of every meal with at least 30% of your caloric intake coming from fat. Although fat is more calorie dense than carbohydrate, it will keep you satiated longer. Experiencing hunger pains is a common complaint from Cronies.

Carbohydrate is where you should skimp. Particularly the carbs made from grains. You can eat plenty of low-glycemic veggies on this diet as they are low in calories and high in nutrients and fiber, particularly if you eat them raw.

To make the most of this diet approach, be sure you are eating quality protein by choosing grassfed beef ( and wild salmon. Eat heart healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and olives. Eliminate trans fats by reading labels. Look for the terms “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” to indicate the presence of trans fats. Trans fats are in many low-fat grain products such as crackers and cereals.

Al Sears, MD

1. Hochman, David. “Food for Holiday Thought: Eat Less, Live to 140?” The New York Times: November 23, 2003.

2. Johannes, Laura. “The Surprising Rise of a Radical Diet: ‘Calorie Restriction’.” The Wall Street Journal: June 3, 2002: 1.