Low-Calorie Diet and Fasting: the Key to Longevity?

Low-Calorie Diet and Fasting: the Key to Longevity?

If you knew you could live longer if you ate fewer calories every day, would you eat less? New research on mice has shown scientists that a low-calorie diet combined with fasting leads to a 35% increase in life expectancy. Theoretically speaking, if you lived to be 70 years old without this diet, the low-calorie diet would add 24.5 years to your life, but it should be noted that these results are probably not directly applicable from mice to humans and more research and similar studies are needed. [1]


Research at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) led by Joseph Takahashi and colleagues has shown that calorie restriction extends life by 10%. The big finding, however, was that the key to longevity is not just cutting calories, but also eating at the right time. Mice that were fed only at the times when they were most active (nighttime for mice) lived 35% longer. The research results support diet plans that are based on eating only at certain times of the day, Takahashi says. [2]


Does the amount of calories affect the human lifespan?

Several scientific studies have already shown that calorie restriction impacts life expectancy. However, it should be noted that all studies to date have examined life extension in flies, worms, and mice. But how much can calorie restriction extend human life? 


For this reason, scientists have chosen to work with primates such as rhesus monkeys, which age similarly to humans (and can also develop cancer, diabetes, and some features of Alzheimer's disease). [3] They found that monkeys who ate a food-restricted diet lived 30% longer than those who ate a diet proportional to their body proportions and sex. Interestingly, the food restriction benefited the older but not the young monkeys. It also depended on their sex and what they ate. [4]


A 2018 scientific study [5] called CALERIE (Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy) lasted two years and examined the aging of humans. It focused on studying the parameters that cause aging. It showed that reducing calorie intake by 15% over two years can slow aging and protect against diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. 


Diets help slow the metabolic rate and reduce the number of free radicals associated with chronic diseases. The more we eat, the more waste products are created during digestion, and our bodies must deal with them. If we eat less, our bodies don't have to deal with the large amount of free radicals that cause aging. [6]


Another scientific study in 2017 [7] showed that calorie restriction can reduce certain risk factors for disease. A team led by gerontologist Walter Long, PhD, director of the University of Southern California's Longevity Institute, examined the effects of a "fasting-mimicking diet" on the risk of developing major diseases. The diet contained precise ratios of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Individuals experienced a decrease in blood pressure, blood glucose and parameters associated with inflammation compared to people who ate a regular diet.

How to live longer without a low-calorie diet?

If you don't feel like limiting the number of calories in your diet, you might consider fasting. Fasting is a practice that has been used for centuries as a cleansing treatment around the world in many cultures. In conjunction with a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle, it can greatly benefit your health. It has a wide range of potential health benefits, from better blood sugar control to positive effects on the heart and brain. [8] It also prevents cancer [9,10] and weight loss is its natural consequence. Scientific studies in mice and other animals show that intermittent fasting increases longevity. [11] Rats that fasted every other day lived 83 percent longer than rats that could eat whenever and as much as they wanted. [12]


Fasting activates many geroprotective ("anti-aging") mechanisms, such as the process by which cells digest more of the waste material that otherwise accumulates. [13,14] As mentioned above, this waste in the form of free radicals causes aging. Fasting also activates protective genes, such as those that reduce inflammation. [15] Clearly, whatever step you decide to take toward your longevity, fasting is definitely worth considering. There are many different types of fasting, you just have to choose which one appeals to you and which one is right for you.

Everything in moderation - healthy, balanced diet always wins

Both low-calorie diets and fasting can have their risks if you embark on them without thinking or if you overdo them. Potential side effects of long-term calorie restriction include bone loss, increased sensitivity to cold, decreased sex drive, or risk of eating disorders. [16] Fasting has its pitfalls, too. Although most fasts are safe, you may run into too much muscle breakdown, risk of vitamin, mineral, and other micronutrient deficiencies, too much weight loss, too much stress, and more. [17]


If you want to take care of your health preventively, the main principle should be a healthy, varied, balanced diet. Your body needs to be sufficiently nourished and have enough energy. If your intention is to optimize your diet also to slow down the ageing process, it is generally advisable to focus on a plant-based diet rich in fiber and nuts, to follow a regular drinking regime and to avoid overeating, processed foods and excessive consumption of coffee or red wine (or alcohol in general). [18] Although these recommendations are based on scientific studies, the recommendations for each individual may vary. Each person is different, has different genetic predispositions, and their body functions a little differently. Recommendations may therefore vary. Your nutritionist or our genetic test can assist you in tailoring them to you.


According to scientific findings, low-calorie diets and fasting have a positive effect on our health and longevity. If you are considering trying them out and incorporating them into your lifestyle, we recommend that you approach these practices with moderation and wisdom and always nourish your body as best as possible.


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