Game changer: Can a reduced diet keep your cells young?

New research shows the less you eat, the longer you live. But is it worth it?
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Scientists are proving that eating a lot less doesn't just make it easier to find jeans, it means slower ageing on a cellular level. Unsurprisingly, the fountain of youth does not flow with hot fudge.

John Price, biochemistry professor and senior author at Brigham Young University says, "when you restrict calorie consumption, there's almost a linear increase in lifespan." It's a bold statement but even with the promise of long life, eating less food is a tough sell. Anyone who has tried french fries knows that.

His research showed that significant caloric reduction in mice "caused real biochemical changes that slowed down the rate of aging." Ultimately, at a cellular level, hungry mice age less. How hungry were they? Although still fed enough to meet nutritional needs, one group of mice was fed 35 percent fewer calories than another group. So imagine skipping about one meal a day. I'm already out. But Price confirms the "calorie-restricted mice are more energetic and suffered fewer diseases". Though I wonder if that increased energy is a byproduct of being hangry. Price adds, "It's not just that they're living longer, but because they're better at maintaining their bodies, they're younger for longer as well."

When ribosomes slow their protein production, ageing revs down too. The production break lets ribosomes repair themselves. Ergo longer life. Huzzah! The cellular deceleration is caused by, you guessed it, eating far less. Booo! No free rides in science.

Though Price's team is the first to link slowed protein production of ribosomes to youthful regeneration, his research is not the first of its kind. Eric Ravussin at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana is confident findings in this field will apply to humans as well. He even gives us a rule of thumb: "Eat 15 percent less starting at age 25 and you might add 4.5 years to your life". Though Ravussin's rule is only an educated estimate he says, "There is absolutely no reason to think it won't work". Whether or not you want to apply it to your life is another thing entirely. My cost-benefit analysis on those numbers is not favorable but I'll let you calculate your own. Also, I'm about 15 years too late to the 15-percent-less-food-starting-in-your-twenties party.

Still, other research shows caloric restriction is not the panacea it's sometimes championed to be. In fact, a similar study done with monkeys showed no significant life lengthening effects when food was 30% more scarce. Yes, we can survive on far less food from an evolutionary survival standpoint but only when our overall diet is balanced and healthy the rest of the time. And it doesn't automatically translate to exercising full control over the hands of time.

Extremes are never ideal. Price agrees that though his findings are important to the science of ageing (biogerontology, if you want to wow your friends), people shouldn't expect eternal youth by simply not eating. He cautions that "food isn't just material to be burned -- it's a signal that tells our body and cells how to respond" adding that his research, and other research like it will "help us make more educated decisions about what we eat." Undeniably, food is life. Again, anyone who's tried french fries knows that.

The life sustaining quality of food, and the health benefits of its occasional scarcity, are complex. Being mindful is more important than bingeing and fasting. But the next time you're eyeing a buttery rib & reef platter, you may want to stay your hand before you dig in. Or tuck in while we wait for more research on the subject. Life, after all, is short.