nutrition: living longer by eating less works at any age

It’s been known for decades that an animal’s lifespan could be extended by severely reducing its calorie intake, while avoiding malnourishment. Calorie restriction slows the rate of aging, as well as the development of age-related diseases. (A few hardy, if hungry, souls are testing calorie restriction on themselves to see if this holds true for humans.) But it was also thought that a restricted diet had to be started early in an animal’s life to work well. Now a study on older mice in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition suggests otherwise. Stephen Spindler of the University of California at Riverside and colleagues started late middle-aged mice on a restricted diet and found the same benefits: the mice lived almost six months longer and the onset and progression of cancers were slowed. Genetic analysis revealed that the older calorie-restricted mice had patterns of genetic activity similar to those of mice on the diet from their youth. The researchers suggest that drugs that could mimic the same patterns of genetic activity might give the same beneficial effects.

This news brief appeared in the Discoveries column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 3/23/2004.
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