50+ health * Healthy living * Weight loss * Mental wellbeing

Eating fewer calories 'leads to longer healthier life'

stock photograph of a monkey Study suggests it can even prevent diabetes

Researchers have reported that feeding monkeys with a nutritious but reduced-calorie diet slows down the effects of ageing, and significantly delays the onset of age-related disorders such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and brain atrophy.

"We observed that caloric restriction reduced the risk of developing an age-related disease by a factor of three and increased survival," said the lead scientist in the study, Richard Weindruch.

About the study

The study began in 1989 with a group of 30 rhesus macaque monkeys, with 46 monkeys added in 1994. Half the monkeys were allowed to eat as they pleased, and the other half were given a restricted calorie diet. It was carried out by teams of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital.

The results

The study found that the incidence of cancerous tumours and cardiovascular disease in animals on the restricted diet was less than half that found in animals permitted to eat freely. Remarkably, while diabetes or impaired glucose regulation is common in monkeys that can eat all they want, it has yet to be observed in any animal on a restricted diet. "So far, we've seen the complete prevention of diabetes," said Dr Weindruch.

The brain health of the restricted diet monkeys was also better, with the volume of the brain in certain key areas being maintained in the face of ageing.

A number of studies in the past have suggested that calorie restricted diets can lead to longer life, in everything from spiders to humans. However, this study is the most detailed to date, covering a long period of time and recording the lifestyle and diets of the subjects closely.

What does this mean for me?

First, it should be noted that the diet of the monkeys was carefully controlled to ensure that they received sufficient calories and nutrients. No one should use this information to change their eating habits.

Second, there is still no conclusive evidence that this study is applicable to humans. More detailed study over many years will be required before we can know for certain.

What we can say now is that obesity is a major health crisis and that being overweight is a health risk, but eating too little is also dangerous to health and not to be encouraged.

More information

University of Wisconsin-Madison

This article was published on Fri 10 July 2009

Image © Michael Kvakin - Fotolia.com

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