Starve yourself and live longer


November 24, 2009

It doesn't seem to matter how the diet is restricted - whether fats, proteins or carbohydrates are cut - to produce protective effects against aging and disease (Photo: Noel McKeegan)

It doesn't seem to matter how the diet is restricted - whether fats, proteins or carbohydrates are cut - to produce protective effects against aging and disease (Photo: Noel McKeegan)

Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have unraveled a molecular puzzle to reveal why a lower-calorie diet slows the development of some age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the aging process itself. In their search for an answer they discovered that it doesn’t seem to matter how the diet is restricted – whether fats, proteins or carbohydrates are cut – to produce protective effects against aging and disease.

A two-part study led by Charles Mobbs, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience and of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, indicates that a reduction of dietary intake blocks a person’s glucose metabolism, which contributes to oxidative stress - a cellular process that leads to tissue damage and also promotes cancer cell growth. Conversely, high calorie diet may accelerate age-related disease by promoting oxidative stress.

Dietary restriction induces a transcription factor called CREB-binding protein (CBP), which controls the activity of genes that regulate cellular function. By developing drugs that mimic the protective effects of CBP – those usually caused by dietary restriction – scientists may be able to extend lifespan and reduce vulnerability to age-related illnesses.

“We discovered that CBP predicts lifespan and accounts for 80 percent of lifespan variation in mammals,” said Dr. Mobbs. “Finding the right balance is key; only a 10 percent restriction will produce a small increase in lifespan, whereas an 80 percent restriction will lead to a shorter life due to starvation.”

The team found an optimal dietary restriction, estimated to be equivalent to a 30 percent caloric reduction in mammals, increased lifespan over 50 percent while slowing the development of an age-related pathology similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

The first part of the study looked at c. elegans, a species of roundworm, that were genetically altered to develop Alzheimer’s disease-like symptoms. Dr. Mobbs and his team reduced the roundworms’ dietary intake by diluting the bacteria the worms consume. They found that when dietary restriction was maintained throughout the worms’ adulthood, lifespan increased by 65 percent and the Alzheimer's disease-related paralysis decreased by about 50 percent.

In the second part of study, Dr. Mobbs and his team looked at the other end of this process: What happens to CBP in a high-calorie diet that has led to diabetes, a disease in which glucose metabolism is impaired? Researchers examined mice and found that diabetes reduces activation of CBP, leading Dr. Mobbs to conclude that a high-calorie diet that leads to diabetes would have the opposite effect of dietary restriction and would accelerate aging.

Interestingly, dietary restriction triggers CBP for as long as the restriction is maintained, suggesting that the protective effects may wear off if higher dietary intake resumes. CBP responds to changes in glucose within hours, indicating genetic communications respond quickly to fluctuations in dietary intake. “Our next step is to understand the exact interactions of CBP with other transcription factors that mediate its protective effects with age,” said Dr. Mobbs. “If we can map out these interactions, we could then begin to produce more targeted drugs that mimic the protective effects of CBP.”

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

A simpler solution might be to come up with some kind of indigestible dietary filler, similar to insoluble fiber but tastier and more versatile. Then people could eat as much as they want, feel sated and still restrict their caloric intake. Taking drugs on a regular or daily basis is not a good idea and you\'ll never get most people to starve themselves even in the name of longer life. A longer but less pleasant life holds little allure.


It seems like the old saying \"burn twice as bright but half as long\" is true... It really makes since that when your metabolism is running higher that your body is internally burning the candle at both ends, and that having a too-low caloric intake would cause your body to respond by lowering your metabolism.

Dan K

I wonder if a once a week fast would have the same benefit, or if the caloric restriction must be spread throughout each daily meal?

I know Resveratrol can have some age-extending benefit of mice fed a high calorie diet, so an intake of that would also have some synergistic effect perhaps?


So in other words, the practice of fasting as followed by Muslims is surely helpful and scientifically proved. Also the Prophet Muhammad teaching of stop eating when the stomach is half full also makes a lot of sense. What do you guys says on this?

Junaid Khan

Junaid, ascetics have restricted diets long before Muhammad appeared on this earth. That includes the teaching of the Buddha, 1200 years prior to Muhammad, and Gautama Buddha wasn\'t even a prophet, just an ordinary man.

On another note, research is showing that all animals have a propensity to over eat when food is plenty and only developed the genetic capacity from our evolutionary past to deal with starvation brought on by environmental conditions. Most dogs will over eat to the point of killing themselves, but we humans supposedly have a brain to turn that tendency off. Well, some of us humans at least have that capacity.

rob M.

Perhaps all the adulterated fillers of modern cuisine should be done away with...sugar, corn-syrup,simple starches, etc. These certainly add empty calories to an already overburdened diet, increasing oxidative burn.

Facebook User

So in summary: \"Don\'t eat more than your body needs\".

Gruph Norgle

Before we begin discussing artificial means of triggering this type of response (such as popping a pill that often has additional negative side effects), I would be curious to know to what extent the reasearchers advise restricting your diet. Is this an extreme restriction or simply a restriction down to what should be a healthy caloric intake anyway? And how does this correlate with the data that suggests that a person who starves themselves actually triggers the increased storage of calories as fat to prevent starvation? It boils down again to the rate of restriction they are discussing, which isn\'t mentioned anywhere.

On a dietary note, any calorie consumed in any form (protein, fat, or carbohydrate) in excess of your daily energy needs is an \"empty\" wasted calorie that you either need to increase your activity level in order to burn OR choose to store as fat. So labeling starches as \"empty\" is misleading and only leads to unhealthy extremist eating habits.

Brina Snyder

You want to keep your calories low, obviously to keep from being fat and developing metabolic disease symptoms- diabetes, etc. If you keep your sugars low, then you have low or no insulin produciton, and that giant hormone probably interferes with all of your other hormones and causes havoc. Seriously, you can\'t cut back on your food intake?

Foster Brooks

This research is fairly old except the actual metabolic process involved. Is it research funded by the fast food industry? Perhaps seeding the food of all the porkers is the only way to get them to slow down their girth growth. But that solution cuts both ways. The higher mortality of porkers reduces stress on the social security system. But their higher morbidity increases the cost of medical care astronomically. It is probably cheaper to put them on the diet, knowingly or not. My observation is that they will eat around any caloric restriction since they actually want to be fat- it is their only projection of power they can muster. This would actually lead to them eating more fast food, increasing fast food profits and creating more environmental stress.



Aleks Yatskevich
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