Preliminary findings in a study at the University of Wisconsin in Madison suggest that a restricted calorie diet may prolong your lifespan.
In 1989 researchers led by Dr. Ricki J. Colman started with 30 adult male Rhesus monkeys. A control group of 15 were allowed to eat their fill while the other group was fed a nutritious diet with seventy percent of the calories they would normally eat. 30 female and 16 additional male monkeys were added in 1994 to broaden the scope of the research.
Since the study began 21 of the control group and 14 of the experimental group have perished. In the control group 14 died from age related illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, or heart disease. In the diet restricted group only 5 died from cancer or heart disease with none of the monkeys showing signs of diabetes.
Dr. Richard Weindruch, who joined the study in 1990, said the dieting monkeys were expected to live 10 to 20 percent longer than the control group. He added “It says much of the biology of caloric restriction is translatable into primates, which makes it more likely it would apply to humans.”
Other benefits of the controlled diet was reduced shrinking of the brain and higher activity levels. The group had denser fur, slimmer bodies, and appeared visibly more youthful.
Dr. Luigi Fontana, of Washington University in St. Louis and the Italian National Health Service in Rome says ” These results show that calorie restriction helps preserve primates’ bodies and brains.” Fontana adds “I’m confident that everything that happens in (non-human) primates will happen in humans.”
Dr. Fontana also suggests that since both groups were fed a healthy diet people switching from a Western diet with a high fat content to a calorie restricted one,without being malnourished, may produce even better results.
In other areas of longevity research rapamycin, a drug normally given to organ transplant patients, seems to fool cells into thinking their calorie supply has been taken. It has so far demonstrated promising results in lab mice.
Resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, is also under study. It has shown many beneficial effects in rat and mouse trials including anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, improved cardiovascular health, and lowered blood sugar.
Rhesus monkeys can live up 40 years in captivity with an average life span of 27 years. With that in mind, the study still needs another 10 to 15 years to run it’s course. Still, the interim findings offer hope that with a little self-control we may be able to extend our lives and improve our quality of life as we age.