Calorie Restriction: Life Extension or Self-Starvation?

Cutting calories isn’t just for dieters anymore.  A growing number of people are embracing extreme, calorie-restricted diets in the hopes that it will drastically extend their lifespan…to 120 or beyond. (See also “Extreme Calorie Restriction for Long Life”  on MSNBC.com).

What is Calorie Restriction?

Proponents of Calorie Restriction (or CR) typically eat 30-40% fewer calories than it would take to maintain what is generally considered to be a “healthy” weight.  They generally lose quite a bit of weight before stabilizing at a much lower body weight.  The motivation for such extreme deprivation? Animal studies in everything from fruit flies to primates indicate that CR can extend the maximum lifespan of the animal in question as much as 20 or 25%.  There are no human studies verifying that CR will have the same effect on humans, but short-term studies show that CR does reduce biomarkers for aging along with lowering the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.  For many, that’s evidence enough.

What’s the Calorie Restriction Lifestyle Like?

CR is a difficult lifestyle.  Many who practice it admit to dealing with constant hunger and obsession with food. In a society where every social situation and celebration seems to focus on food, the CR lifestyle can be isolating.  It’s also time-consuming.  When you are eating very few calories, it becomes difficult to ensure adequate intake of protein, essential fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals.  There is literally no room for empty calories and meticulous meal planning and tracking becomes a necessity.   There is also concern about the potential for CR to lead to (or be a “cover” for) disordered eating.

Whatever its potential benefits, CR is obviously too austere for the vast majority of the (mostly overweight) population.  And there may be alternatives.  Some research suggests that fasting every other day (even if you “make up” for the missed calories the next day) may produce many of the same benefits with less hardship. And, predictably, the biotech companies are racing to develop drugs that will mimic the beneficial effects of CR without the deprivation.

What’s Your Opinion on Calorie Restriction?

What’s your personal view on calorie restriction? Would you be willing to put up with daily hunger in exchange for 10, 20, or even 30 extra healthy years?

4 thoughts on “Calorie Restriction: Life Extension or Self-Starvation?

  1. Calorie restriction? While I can see why some people would engage in such behavior, there is just no way that I could ever do that. I am having a tough enough time trying to keep my daily caloric intake down to a sane level. I am thinking of aiming to eat a 2,500 calories-a-day diet, but with my insatiable appetite, even that is a huge challenge which I am not sure that I can fulfill. I have heard, though, that taking resveratrol supplements can have the same longevity effects as does calorie restriction. Especially for food lovers like me, the latter approach has far more appeal.

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