Eat Less, Age Less?

By Mark Barna | September 29, 2017 1:52 pm

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Eating is one of the great pleasures of life. But eating too much places people at risk for chronic illnesses and shortens life expectancy. Seven of 10 Americans are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Being overweight is so common, people don’t recognize when they’ve crossed the belt line; only 36 percent of overweight/obese people think they weigh too much, says a recent Gallup poll.

People want to feel healthy and most want to live a long time. But practically speaking, the price may be too high. It means pushing away that extra plate of food, and perhaps more.

Fewer calories, better health

Decades of lab-animal studies connect health and longevity to dramatic caloric restriction. Scientists continue to replicate these animal studies in their quest to figure out what causes aging.

One of these scientists is Paolo Sassone-Corsi, the director of the Center for Epigenetics & Metabolism at the University of California, Irvine. He’s the lead author of a paper published in August in the journal Cell that shows how our biological clock affects metabolism.

Corsi and his team say older animals (including us) are less efficient than younger animals in processing energy—metabolism runs down during life. He says 50 percent of our metabolism is controlled by circadian rhythms, or our biological clock, and a host of factors contribute to our biological clock getting messed up. A big one is overeating. Eating too much can “completely reprogram the clock system that normally works perfectly,” Corsi says. The result can mean higher risk for chronic illnesses and early death.

Corsi conducted an experiment in which lab mice underwent a 30 percent reduction in calorie intake. “They lost weight, they were healthy and they lived longer,” Corsi says. “That is the amazing thing.”

A low-calorie diet appears to reset circadian rhythms, from which comes health and longevity. This is quite the carrot-on-the-stick for people wanting to be forever young.

But at this point, Corsi doesn’t recommend a 30 percent reduction in calories for fit humans, and it likely wouldn’t improve their health. Studies have shown benefits with a 10 percent reduction in calorie intake, he says. And it could be that exercise is as beneficial, though Corsi says moderate eating and regular exercise are the ideal.

Many questions remain, in part because human clinical trials involving low-calorie intake are scant. Corsi is currently trying to organize human trials.

The ‘Noise’ of Aging

Another scientist studying the under-the-hood causes of aging is Jean-Pierre Issa, director of Fels Institute of Cancer Research at Temple University’s medical school. Earlier in September, he and colleagues published a paper in Nature Communications that suggested epigenetic drift is a factor in aging.

Epigenetics is the science of how cells control cellular identity. Humans have a single genome but hundreds of cell and tissue types. “There must be an added layer of information that says you are a liver cell or a blood cell,” Issa says. “That added layer of information is what we call epigenetics.”

When body cells aren’t working as well as they used to, chronic illnesses and other signs of aging develop. “The overall pattern is that of progressive noise compared to the young,” Issa says, “and this is what we call [epigenetic] drift. People who have more drift tend to have more diseases and more cancers and die younger than people of the same age with less drift.”

But Issa found something that quiets the noise: calorie restriction. In one experiment, a group of mice was fed 40 percent fewer calories from when they were months old until they were about 3 years old, the typical life span of mice. Compared to the control mice, those on a diet were healthier and lived longer.

But weren’t they starving?

“One can survive on a range of calories,” Issa says. “The body adapts to what it’s getting. We can live with 40 percent of calorie restriction. In fact, some people do that.” But Issa doesn’t recommend it.

“There are some mice strains —which would be equivalent to people because people are genetically diverse — in which calorie restriction has no effect,” he says. And there are some cases where mice life was shortened.

“Someone could say, ‘I will go on calorie restriction,’ and it could end up hurting them,” Issa says.

Exercise might offer better health results than severe calorie restriction, Issa says. “Someone who is slightly overweight but exercises every day is probably healthier than someone who is lean but never exercises.”

But so much remains unknown. “I don’t want to leave you with the idea that we know what people should eat,” he says. “It could be that eating 1,500 calories a day or 2,500 calories a day is essentially the same, as long as you remain active and exercise. And maybe they are not the same. No black and white answers.”

The search for the fountain of youth continues.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health
  • Uncle Al

    7,5 billion people are stripping the fields and sterilizing the oceans. Propaganda will follow. Potlatch sacrifice will make us wealthy.

    “The chocolate ration has been increased from bourgeois 150 to socialist solidarity130 grams per month! We are winning the War of Production with conservation!”

    • StanChaz

      Can I have some of what you’re smoking, kind sir?

      • Kathy

        yeah, really!

  • Erik Bosma

    Well, I sure agree with the high percentage of overweight people these days. Only having lived for 50 or 60 years or longer are we able to compare (or just look at pictures of street scenes showing large amounts of people) how large people are compared to the ’50’s or ’60’s. I see a group of teens approaching and they’re all overweight (I’m not allowed to say ‘fat’ anymore) but they look normal to each other because they do not stick out anymore. As far as ‘fat shaming’ or any other kind of shaming goes, there’s nothing wrong with a little shame once in awhile. It’s a great motivator. It’s our overly politically correct manner of changing the language that is doing more harm than good. There’s nothing wrong with those words, there’s just something wrong with how some people use them. If you’re fat, you’re fat. If you drink too much, well, you drink too much. You SHOULD be ashamed of yourself.

    • Erik Bosma

      I should qualify myself – I’m 64 and having a bitch of a time trying to fight this spare tire that’s trying to kill me. Right now I’m walking a mile a day and swimming a kilometre. It’s the carbohydrates that I’m having the most fun with.

    • Kathy

      So true, problem is “fat” people feel there is nothing wrong with the way they’re living or looking, that is, until cancer or some other ill finally strikes them, and it will.

      • Maia

        Not exactly. Thin people get cancer, too, and there is no way you can say that all overweight people WILL get cancer…or anything else. In fact, there are reputable studies that show that being slightly “overweight” is healthier than being underweight.
        And just for reference, I am in the normal range weight-wise. Demonizing “overweight” is just like every other demon-of-the-week campaign. Reality is more nuanced than that!

        • Erik Bosma

          No one is “demonizing” anything. It’s not about people being fat, it’s about how we have for so long treated anyone who is ‘different’. However, some ‘differences’ can’t be helped and some can. Man, when I was a kid everyone was picked on. It was a bullying culture. That has to stop. But it shouldn’t go to the other extreme where everything is acceptable. We should stop judging but we should never stop offering our help and setting some reasonable standards. You cannot tell me that someone 100 lbs overweight is enjoying their life; or someone eating a half dozen benzos a day because of their “nerves”; or someone who refuses to leave the ‘safety’ of their own home even though it is packed to the ceiling with clutter; and so on and so on. I believe we have a responsibility to these folks especially these days when we are all so socially interconnected and where your ”disability’ begins to infringe upon my comfort. Just wait until 30 or 40 years from now when the cardiac units will have block long waiting lines and your health taxes go through the ceiling paying for all the bypasses and transplants. Maybe the solution is to just tax everyone with an addiction just like we do now with booze and cigarettes.

          • Maia

            You might want to go back and read the comment I was responding to…and then read what I actually said. I don’t see where I said anything about extreme overweight being a good thing. Or that we shouldn’t try to help people with stress illnesses, of course we should. My hard won experience tells me that shaming people does not help them lose weight or stop smoking. Offering help, and possibly, yes, increasing costs in some way…eg, insurance for smokers more expensive. But on weight, I think it’s not simply the individual, it’s the culture. We no longer see ads for cigarettes, but what do we see ads for? Junk food and more junk food! Perscription drugs. Booze. And then more junk food. Is there no responsibility on the part of schools and hospitals, media, etc to offer healthier foods and get rid of candy machines and coke machines and cheap pastry? And what about super-size choices, where “small” is the formerly “large”? We need to set examples from childhood on, and things will change in a healthier direction. Problem is, junk food is making billions for corporations. And now we have someone in the white house setting the bar on the ground for us.

          • Erik Bosma

            Totally agree so we must have got a wire crossed. As long as we live to about 50ish that’s all they need us for. Those are our gross earning potential with the least amount of payouts as in healthcare, etc. So if they can keep us alive till about 50 or so then they maximize our profitability. People after 50 may still be earning good money but they are also costing money and are also not getting suckered into the high interest loans and mortgages anymore. So getting us hooked on smokes, alcohol and food gives them that perfect window for max profit.

        • Kathy

          Make of it as you wish, I never said they would definitely get cancer, I said they would get cancer or some OTHER ill. Read the NEJM and than you can talk about “reputable” studies. Obviously, there is no disputing that being slightly overweight is better than being grossly underweight. Certainly, being underweight by ten to fifteen pounds doesn’t hurt anyone, unless, of course you’re already ill. When I say “fat” people, I’m not referring to sone one who may be 20-30 lbs overweight, I’m talking about people who are 100 or more pounds over their ideal weight. I have heart failure due to a congenital heart defect, but I did nothing to cause it. What galls me is when I see every single store scooter being used by a “fat” individual, who should have been walking more instead of sitting so much in the first place, and I am the one who ends up walking with difficulty, because it’s hard to walk any distance when you have difficulty breathing due to heart failure. I think our government has got to start hitting the “fat” ones with an additional premium. Every other tax paying, health conscious person should not have to carry the burden for some one who is satisfied with the way they are.

          • Maia

            You cannot ever tell by just looking at someone what their health situation really is or how much they are suffering or what they are capable of.

  • StanChaz

    Less, more, whatever.
    This article totally ignores the crucial fact of WHAT we eat.
    A reduced calorie diet that consists of healtier & more nutritious foods would surely be better than a so-called normal/average/full diet consisting of junk food, twinkies and ice cream.
    No black and white answers? Really?
    It’s obvious (except to the people doing these “studies”), that you are what you eat, as modulated by how much you eat, and your lifestyle, or your deathstyle, as the case may be…

    • Kathy

      I agree with you 100%

    • Maia

      You’ve said if for me, SC, I get tired of repeating myself along these lines, so thanks!

    • lindsncal

      What they meant was…by giving them the same diet.

  • jari vaarala

    Liirum laarum.

  • laurele

    The 1998 revision of BMI standards artificially put more people into the overweight category when, with BMIs of 26-27 percent, many are just on the upper end of normal. It is disingenuous and bad science to class these people as overweight and then say seven out of ten Americans are overweight. Many people in the borderline areas do not eat too much at all, and some live into their 90s and beyond. Their bodies are naturally a bit rounder, and often this is genetic. Additionally, BMI is a 19th century measurement that does not take into account differences in body types, relying on a very narrow formula for height and weight.

    • Tammy A. Brown

      You could be tired of 9 to 5 responsibility? Trying to get an opportunity to working from home by doing simple and easy activities by using your personal computer and internet and desire to make fulltime paycheck of five hundred dollars to one thousand dollars a week? I am focusing on this outstanding opporutinity since 4 years now and doing work only 4-5 hrs per day and 5 days per week and additionally earning potential here is extremely high and also you get the results of your work you do right now in upcoming days also. Therefore over-all its a wonderful project to work at and even that is too from comfort and ease of your own home. The things you need is laptop and a fast internet access and you are ready to proceed. It is best to to not waste your time and check all the details right now… BINB.OOO/XUBAD

  • lindsncal

    Here’s a better fact….the more orgasms a man has in his life, the longer he lives.

    • Maia


      • lindsncal

        No time. gotta go. Look it up.

        • Maia

          Yeah, right. :)

    • OWilson

      I would subscribe to that theory :)

      I’d love to see the science!

      • lindsncal

        It’s been shown already.
        Here’s my theory: Every living thing on the planet, including humans, has the same mission…to perpetuate their species and pass on their genes. Hence…a sex drive right up there with eating and sleeping. Our sexual attractions are all scientifically based on that mission. ‘Men are subconsciously attracted to women with the most perfect body proportions for having children. Men subconsciously are more attracted to women when they are ovulating’…and more.
        When a man stops having orgasms, no matter how, the body assumes he’s done pro-creating and starts to shut down.

      • Maia

        He’s too “busy” to provide any science!
        (see his reply to me asking him for the same thing).

      • Erik Bosma

        Well then just during my 14th year I extended my life by at least 250 years.


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