December 19, 2012
Why you don't need to restrict your calories to live a long life
This is a big story, and one I had hoped would turn out differently. People have been looking for the Fountain of Youth for centuries. Prolonging our lives and our quality of life are priorities for just about everyone these days, especially drug researchers. But most of what we have found just prevents premature death.

I've told you about past studies that suggested calorie restriction might be a key means to extend our lives. These researchers conducted their studies on animals. In their work, they markedly restricted the amount of calories these animals would get. The preliminary results were encouraging, so much so that a study was done on monkeys at the University of Wisconsin. In 2009, they found that calorie restriction extended the life span of monkeys.  Many people were so excited about the project that they began semi-starvation diets in an effort to prolong their lives. But the work needed confirmation, so the National Institutes of Health stepped in.

The current study followed 121 monkeys. The researchers provided 30% less calories to the test group. Those "starved" monkeys did not "gobble" their food, but ate it at a normal pace, similar to the full-calorie control group. They just accustomed themselves to less food. The test group had weights comparable to a 6-foot man at 133 pounds.

In the end, this study found that calorie restriction did not extend the lives of the experimental group compared to the controls. So what might have led to the apparently misleading results of the Wisconsin study? Well, for one thing, researchers threw out deaths of many animals, which they thought were not related to aging. When they included those deaths in the full group, the death rate was the same in calorie-restricted and control animals.

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In the original study, they also allowed the control group to eat all they wanted. That's not natural. In the current study, the control group had a fixed and normal calorie diet. They could not eat to excess. There also was more genetic diversity in the current study than the Wisconsin one. These data show the need for confirming medical research independently of the original researchers.

So what do I make of this? I am disappointed that the expected and hoped- for results didn't materialize. Does this mean you should go out and eat whatever you want? I don't think so. These studies were looking at length of life. I am more concerned about quality of life. Calorie restriction does reduce your production (and need) for insulin. This hormone, when in excess, works against your body. It's like blowing a fan on the fires of vascular disease and cancer.

With that said, I don't think that you need to restrict calories. I didn't, even in the face of the preliminary studies. However, I prudently choose eating foods that will not create an insulin burden. Let's say that I can't extend my life beyond a certain set point. That's fine. I just don't want to live my final 10 years (or so) as a vascular cripple.

I think it's healthier to leave the table less than "fully full." The dietary advice (stressing non-processed Living Foods) I've provided for 10 years in these pages is a low insulin-inducing diet. I think that's all you need for these purposes. Enjoy your food and don't fear you need to deny yourself satiation for a long healthy life. Concentrate more on what you are eating, and less on how much!

Yours for better health and medical freedom,

Ref: Kolata, Gina, "Severe Diet Doesn’t Prolong Life, at Least in Monkeys," New York Times, August 29, 2012.

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