Post-Feasting Reminder to Investigate Calorie Restriction

This seems to be an appropriate time of year to remind folks about calorie restriction, a lifestyle and diet option that has been demonstrated to bring dramatic health benefits.

A calorie restriction diet aims at reducing your intake of calories to 20-40% less than is typical, while still obtaining all the necessary nutrients and vitamins.


The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has published an impressive set of statistics on the effects of calorie restriction (CR) in humans, based on ongoing US research. It makes for compelling reading: "It's very clear from these findings that calorie restriction has a powerful protective effect against diseases associated with ageing. [Practitioners will] certainly have a much longer life expectancy than average because they're most likely not going to die from a heart attack, stroke or diabetes."

Calorie restriction has been proven to extend healthy life span in most animals - including mice and primates - and the weight of evidence suggests that it does the same in humans.

A human study by John O. Holloszy, a professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, published earlier this year noted that 18 people who had been practicing CR for three to 15 years showed dramatically reduced risk of developing diabetes or clogged arteries. ... It's very clear that calorie restriction has a powerful, protective effect against diseases associated with aging ... We don't know how long each individual actually will end up living, but they certainly have a much longer life expectancy than average because they're most likely not going to die from a heart attack, stroke or diabetes.

Calorie restriction has even been demonstrated to slow the progression of specific age-related conditions, such as Alzheimers:

Restricting the diets of mice reduces the build-up of plaques in the brain that are linked to Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study that offers further evidence of the benefits of calorie restriction. Obese people are already considered to be at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer's but the findings offer some insight into a possible explanation for this trend.

If you haven't already investigated calorie restriction as a means to a longer, healthier life, you certainly shouldn't wait any longer.


Two comments:

o I've noticed that people who eat CR diets tend to eat very poor food choices. For example, processed grains, rice cakes, sugary foods, etc. By far the best calorie restricted diet Ive seen is the one presented in the book, The Okinawa Program. Most people I've seen who follow a CR diet are undermining their efforts by eating unhealthy foods.

o Where do supplements come into play? For example, resveratrol has been shown to trigger the same benefits of a CR diet, yet without reducing calorie intake. Why not take this as extra insurance? And why not take any of dozens of other well researched supplements as additional insurance, such as green tea, curcumin, ginger extract, creatine, pycnogenol, green seed extract, fish oil, hyaluronic acid, carnosine, etc.

Certainly these supplements (along with exercise) can extend most people's live alone by 20 years, giving them more opportunity to take advantage of coming genetics-based breakthroughs.


Posted by: Scott Miller at December 27th, 2004 9:09 AM

I don't know about that - most of the people I know who follow CR eat very sensibly. You really have to in order to keep the calorie count low without getting hungry.

Supplements and exercise are an essential part of staying healthy, but they won't extend healthy life span so much as not reduce it - a fine distinction, I'll admit, in this time of 3000-4000 calorie/day diets and a largely sedentary population.

Posted by: Reason at December 27th, 2004 9:51 AM

I saw a show very recently, on one of the science channels or PBS, where they had a group of people eating a CR diet that was full of horrible food choices, like half bagels, white rice, white potatoes, and other equally poor choices. And this control group was being fed by nutritional experts ... or supposedly!

Anyway, it's my wager that *most* people who are on a CR diet are not exercising very well, and/or not eating optimum nutrition (and avoiding nutritionally bankrupt foods), and/or not taking all the supplements they should in order to maximize their health.

I'd love to know what Aubrey de Grey is doing from the above, for instance. My guess is, not much. What about yourself?

Posted by: Scott Miller at December 27th, 2004 11:52 AM

I'll have to get around to posting a "what do I do" item at some point. The short version would be vegetarian/tofu CR plus moderate exercise plus what I consider to be moderate, late-adopter supplementation.

Aubrey de Grey is a man with good genes - he's thin as a rake on a diet of beer and chips, but then he doesn't drive so I imagine he gets a fair amount of exercise. His scientific take on CR is that it's not going to meaningfully extend life span in humans (meaning maximum life span, not healthspan) - not a popular position, and much debated on the CR Society mailing lists and with other scientists.

Posted by: Reason at December 27th, 2004 2:55 PM

So, it sounds like Aubrey is hoping that science comes to the rescue for him, as he's not really willing to put any effort into extending his life on his own -- after all, it takes a little effort and dedication.

I'm surprised that you're on a vegetarian diet, it should NOT, by any stretch, be considered a longevity diet. Tofu, too, is not healthy unless it's fermented tofu, which is hard to find outside of Japan. And even the people of Japan eat very little tofu for the most part. Practically all of the soy available in the USA, for example, is absolutely unhealthy, especially soy milk.

I predict someone like Jack Lalanne, who is fully into exercise and supplementation, will outlast practically all pretenders in the longevity community. Chips and beer will always defeat good genes in the long run.

Posted by: Scott Miller at December 27th, 2004 6:19 PM

I would argue that Aubrey de Grey is putting in a hell of a lot more effort to extend his own life - and incidentally all of the rest of our lives - than most of the rest of us are doing.

Vegetarianism is more of a personal preference in my case than a deliberate strategy; based on my own research I'm fine with my current choices in diet and lifestyle. It's not something I want to spend endless hours optimizing, as I think that time is far better spent on advocacy for medical research.

Chips and beer will defeat good genes in the long run - but then so will the aging process unless dealt with. The difference between the two paths isn't all that great in the grand scheme of things. Far too much effort goes into tinkering a few years here and there through present day lifestyle choices and far too little into supporting serious efforts to improve longevity medicine.

Posted by: Reason at December 27th, 2004 6:33 PM

Reason, it's very clear to me that a *smart* and *dedicated* person would take every reasonable step currently available to extend their healthy lifespan, which, not coincidentally, extends the lifespan period. An optimized longevity-oriented lifestyle -- even one that does not follow hardcore calorie restriction -- should get an average person into the 90's, with a good chance of exceeding 100 years of age. And this is given NOT A SINGLE further advancement beyond what we know today.

The key is to extend one's life so as to be healthy long enough to take advantage of longevity breakthroughs of the type described in Fantastic Voyage or on this web site, which can double, triple, or better, current life spans when they come about.

Anyone involved with the anti-aging movement who regularly indulges in chips and beer is a fool, knowing these foods are ***pro-aging***, rather than anti-aging.

It's hard to respect someone like Audrey, who doesn't walk the walk, so to speak, and take advantage of current anti-aging knowledge that could add 20-40 healthy years to his life, buying him extra time to reap the benefits of coming progress. These steps include daily, somewhat intense exercise (are bodies evolved to expect daily exercise, just as our bodies expect food, air and water), supplements, pH balance, and optimum nutrition.

Personally, I'd probably follow a calorie restricted plan, but I believe muscle building and exercise are more important, and CR doesn't work well for athletes.

It's nice that Aubrey is spearheading this movement, but it's silly that he doesn't also partake of other advances currently known that can extend one's life. Just plain silly.

Posted by: Scott Miller at December 27th, 2004 8:30 PM


As Reason said, I have good genes that mean I maintain very youthful physiological parameters despite eating and drinking what I like. Moreover, my wife is a superb cook and I eat very nutritious dinners to go with the occasional liquid lunch, so that's probably part of it. But the main point is that, as Reason noted, I consider it very unlikely that CR will extend the lifespan of humans who are doing well anyway (like me) by more than a few years -- I have a paper detailing this coming out in Gerontology very soon, of which a preprint is on my website (at the bottom of my publications page). If I thought (as some do) that I could expect an extra 20 years from CR, I'd do it -- but if it's only a couple, and bearing in mind that this has to be weighed against the time it takes to do CR properly, time not being something I have anywhere near enough of these days, the case for me doing CR is pretty fragile.

Posted by: Aubrey de Grey at December 30th, 2004 3:38 AM

I don't do CR, either. As an ongoing athlete, working out fairly intensely 7-8 times per week (4 trips to the gym to lift weights, and 3-4 karate classes), CR simply cannot work for me as I have very demanding nutritional needs. However, I always eat high-quality, organic (or free-range) nutritionally dense foods, and *never* junk foods.

My plan is simple: Stay healthy, and avoid all of the common deceases we associate with aging, but are really caused by neglect, poor body conditioning, and poor nutrition. I also supplement over 120 pills and extracts daily, mostly concentrated components of foods, free radical fighters, and so on.

This should get me to 90 years old, and perhaps above 100. (I'm 43 now and in perfect shape -- checking over 160 bio-markers every six months.) The key is to hang around long enough to benefit from coming advances.

This seems to be the Achilles heel of your plan. You seem to think your genes are special, but I'd argue they're not. Most likely the fact that you walk a lot (indicated by Reason) has really helped you more than you think (as walking will, as shown by the people of Italy, for example, who eat poorly yet walk everywhere and stay thin). Your bad habits will deliver you a dose of reality soon enough, and your lack of taking positive steps, like supplements, is not helping your cause at all.

Generally, you come off as a poor example for the longevity effort. You seem to pin your hopes on medical breakthroughs -- truly a lazy person's plan.

Posted by: Scott Miller at December 30th, 2004 10:14 AM


1) Actually I don't actually walk much, or even bicycle much (maybe 10-15 minutes a day on average).

2) Since exercise has not been shown to extend maximum lifespan in rodents as CR has, why don't you give up the workouts in favour of CR?

3) You seem to have missed the point of my comment. My work is bringing "real anti-aging medicine" closer. If I spend time doing other things that would be somewhat good for me but take time, like CR, or vacations, I may live a ittle longer, but aging will take longer to be cured. Maybe it'll take as much longer as I gain from the time-consuming activities, resulting in no change in my chances. But even if the delay is much less than that, it'll still cost other people's lives -- 100,000 a day. I'm not just doing this for myself.

Posted by: Aubrey de Grey at December 31st, 2004 4:09 AM


In answer to your question, I exercise for several longevity/health reasons. Primarily, I'd prefer not to become feeble as I age, as I want to stay active doing things I love to do, such as snow ski, martial arts, tennis, and play with my children (and hopefully their children). Exercise also improves *dozens* of health related bio-markers, such as bone density, immunity function (exercise is what pumps lymphatic fluids, for example), insulin function, and blood pressure.

People above the age of 25 whom do not exercise typically lose one pound of muscle per year, while gaining 1.5 pounds of fat. The net gain is therefore only half a pound, but the reality is far, far worse.

So, even though CR may be a better longevity plan, I'm trying to have the best of both worlds, perhaps leaning a bit more towards the idea of a highly active life versus a longer life. Still, I think I'll make 100, given all of the other life extension techniques I've adopted.

And by the way, eating properly and taking supplements barely eats into my time. For example, I always take my supplements while driving, which is otherwise dead time. (I spend an hour each month preparing my little snack bags full of pills for the next 30 days. But that's it.) And eating properly is just as time consuming as eating less nutritions foods.

Frankly, I want to have *every reasonable advantage* working in my favor when it comes to health/longevity. To be clear, I DO appreciate your efforts, and hope to benefit from them. (I subscribe to Rejuvenation, btw.) I'm still baffled that you do not take further efforts to benefit from coming breakthroughs, too. I wouldn't cut into your time like you believe.

Posted by: Scott Miller at December 31st, 2004 2:16 PM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.