Can Calorie Restriction Help Prevent Aging?

Posted on August 19, 2021 | by

Woman Sitting on Yoga Mat Drinking Green Smoothie

Practitioners of calorie restriction have been touting its health and weight loss benefits for decades, but it wasn’t until the last decade that studies have confirmed some of these claims. As a practice devoted to helping people look and feel more youthful, we were interested to hear about potential links between calorie restriction and longevity, and for this month’s blog, will be examining whether or not consuming less calories may be able to slow signs of aging.

What is calorie restriction? Is it the same as fasting?

Calorie restriction means reducing the amount of calories you consume each day (generally between 15 to 20% of your total recommended daily calories) without depriving your body of essential nutrients. Although calorie restriction may seem like a simple concept, it’s often confused with a fasting diet, in which a person doesn’t eat at all for certain periods of time. (You’ve likely heard of some of the ways a fasting diet has been implemented, such as intermittent fasting, the One-Meal-A-Day diet, and the Longevity Diet). However, calorie restriction and fasting are not the same.

Is calorie restriction a diet?

Calorie restriction is an eating pattern, not a diet. It’s important that you don’t view calorie restriction as a diet because diets tend to have low success rates. It is much easier to sustain a new eating pattern rather than a diet because a diet is, by definition, a short-term approach to weight loss.

Can calorie restriction prevent aging?

The effects of calorie restriction on animals have been studied with serious interest since the 1930s. Numerous reports (here and here) have shown that calorie-restricted feeding delayed the onset of age-related health issues and even extended lifespan in certain animal species, including monkeys and rats. The results of calorie restriction on humans, however, were not documented until the CALERIE™ study in 2012.

The CALERIE™ study

The aptly-named CALERIE (Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy) study followed 218 young and middle-aged non-obese adults for 2 years. Half of the group reduced their calories, while the other half followed their usual diet. Those in the calorie restriction group experienced the following results:

  • Lowered blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Significantly improved mood, reduced tension, improved sex drive, and better sleep.
  • Sustained 10% weight loss over 2 years, and continued to keep most of this weight off for the following 2 years.

In sum, those in the calorie restriction group experienced many benefits associated with preventing age-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. They also showed decreases in inflammation and thyroid hormones, which may be associated with longer lifespan and decreased risk for age-related diseases.

Those in the calorie restriction group experienced many benefits associated with preventing age-related diseases.

Reducing free radicals may prevent aging

A study in Dermato-Endocrinology reported that ​​calorie restriction, along with exercising, managing stress, and eating a balanced diet, is one of the best ways to prevent the cell-damaging effects of free radicals. You’ve probably heard of free radicals because of their association with life-threatening diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Free radicals are produced naturally in the body and are necessary for many of our physiological functions. However, when too many free radicals are produced in the body, they can attack key molecules like lipids, nucleic acids (responsible for creating our DNA), and proteins. This can cause damage to our cells and result in premature aging.

Calorie restriction is one of the best ways to prevent the cell-damaging effects of free radicals.

Drawbacks of calorie restriction

While the CALERIE study provides evidence that calorie restriction can have significant health benefits, there are a few factors to consider before you start downsizing your meals:

  • Though the CALERIE study is the longest clinical trial on calorie restriction to-date, it only lasted 2 years, which isn’t long enough to understand the long-term health effects of calorie restriction.
  • When done incorrectly, calorie restriction can do more harm than good, putting the body into “starvation mode,” which may actually slow metabolism and prompt the body to store more fat.
  • Calorie restriction can be hard to sustain, and if it’s not maintained consistently, it can be stressful for the body.
  • While many calorie restriction studies involving animals show that calorie restriction can extend lifespan, others found that calorie restriction may actually shorten lifespan.
  • The CALERIE study also found that calorie restriction resulted in slight declines in bone density, lean body mass, and aerobic capacity, though these effects were generally in line with participants’ weight loss.
  • A Communications Biology study found that calorie restriction accelerated loss of grey matter in the brains of primates, though this didn’t affect their cognition.

Our takeaway on calorie restriction

Considering that more than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, many people may benefit from reducing their daily calorie intake. Assuming you are not underweight, calorie restriction can help you lose weight and/or maintain a stable weight, and may provide additional health benefits. However, whether or not calorie restriction is right for you depends on your current BMI and how you go about reducing your calories. Here are a few tips for reducing your daily calorie intake in a healthy way:

  • Eat a diverse, healthy diet. Studies that support calorie restriction as part of a healthy lifestyle make a point to mention that a diverse diet full of antioxidants and other nutrients is essential for optimal health.
  • Stay consistent. Try to spread your calories out evenly across your meals instead of loading up on one single meal. This can help you from binge eating, which places undue stress on the body, potentially causing premature aging and other unwanted effects.
  • Monitor your health with a professional. Make sure you consult with your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet. Based on your BMI, diet, and lifestyle, he or she will help you decide if you can benefit from calorie restriction. With his or her help, you can monitor any changes that may occur after you reduce your calories.

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